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Language and Social Reality

Docs language erate or simply communicate reality? Anthropological linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin whorf have suggested that language not only expresses our thoughts and perceptions but also influences our perception of reality. According to the Sapir Whorf hypothesis, language shapes the view of reality of its speakers (Whorf, 1956; Sapir, 1961). If people are able to think only through language, then language must precede thought.

If language actually shapes the reality we perceive and experience, then some aspects of the world are viewed as important and others are virtually neglected because people know the world only in terms of the vocabulary and grammar uf their own language. If language does create reality, are we trapped by our language? Many social scientists agree that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis overstates the relationship between language and our· thoughts and behavior patterns Although they acknowledge that language has many subtle meanings and that words used by people reflect their central concerns, most sociologists contend that language may influence our behavior and interpretation of social reality but not determine them.

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