Query Re: the great eskimo language hoax

Mr P.A. Van Heusden pvanheus at hgmp.mrc.ac.uk
Fri Nov 26 02:17:13 PST 1999

On Thu, 25 Nov 1999, Carrol Cox wrote:

> What I believe is called the Whorf-Sapir [?] thesis is a great-great
> granddaddy of various current efforts to make discourse a cause
> rather than an effect of human social relations.

Sapir-Whorf, not the other way round

Sapir and Whorf's thesis (first formulated by Edward Sapir in the 1920s) - that language determines (to some degree) what you can think - could either be read as the predecessor of discourse theories, or as the tail end of theories of cultural hierarchy.

I recall reading a book published in Britain in the early 1900s on ancient Germanic languages, which merrily talked about how the language of the Germans made them more barbarous and warlike.

More info on Sapir-Whorf is at: http://www.aber.ac.uk/~dgc/whorf.html

I think Sapir-Whorf has got a lot more to do with structuralism, and the search for the 'human essence', than it has to do with post-structuralism (which admits no 'human essence').

Personally, I think things like Michel Foucault's experience in a mental asylum (one of the paradigmatic sites of the disciplining of the self in our society) had more to do with post-structuralism than Sapir-Whorf did.

Peter -- Peter van Heusden : pvanheus at hgmp.mrc.ac.uk : PGP key available Criticism has torn up the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man shall wear the unadorned, bleak chain but so that he will shake off the chain and pluck the living flower. - Karl Marx

NOTE: I do not speak for the HGMP or the MRC.

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