Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

When Benjamin Lee Whorf died in 1941, he left among his papers an outline for a book he proposed to write—along with the title he hoped to give it, “Language, Thought, and Reality.” This book would have been a systemization and clarification of his ideas about the implications of linguistics for thinking about the nature and structure of external reality.

Since the book was never written, the editor John B. Carroll chose the unused title for this volume, a collection of Whorf’s most important papers, which all deal with the subject planned for the work Whorf had outlined. Carroll has also written an outstanding introduction to the life and work of Benjamin Lee Whorf, which comprises the first thirty-four pages of Language, Thought, and Reality. There is also an excellent bibliography of Whorf’s published and unpublished writings and of books and articles wherein his work is discussed.

The essays included in this book, many reprinted from the scholarly publications in which they first appeared, generally fall into two classes. The first class, and the group most accessible to the general reader, includes essays treating the general concepts underlying Whorf’s theories about the relationship between language and the particular vision of reality that a given language imposes on its speakers. The second group of essays, often difficult for nonspecialists to comprehend, includes expositions of detailed examples of how various Native American and indigenous South American languages organize experiences of the external world.

Of the first class of essays dealing with general concepts, the essays written at the...

(The entire section is 680 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Fishman, Joshua. “The Sociology of Language: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” in Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 1978. Edited by Robert W. Cole.

Hackett, Herbert. “Benjamin Lee Whorf,” in Word Study. XXIX, no. 3 (1954), pp. 1-4.

Hoijer, Harry. “The Relation of Language to Culture,” in Anthropology Today. 1953, pp. 554-573.

Steiner, George. “Whorf, Chomsky, and the Student of Literature,” in On Difficulty, 1978.

Sternberg, Donny D. “Language and Thought,” in Psycholinguistics: Developmental and Pathological, 1977. Edited by Eve V. Clark et al.