NPR posted an article yesterday that talks about the idea that language shapes the way we think. Lera Boroditsky, a psychologist at UCSD, argues that language affect the way we process our surroundings and how we perceive and remember. John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University, says these differences in language exist, but they actually reflect our culture and worldview rather than shape or limit it.
Benjamin Lee Whorf was a student of Edward Sapir, who had trained under Franz Boas. Whorf spent several years as a fire prevention engineer and inspector. During that time, he noticed that language sometimes caused otherwise intelligent people to behave in a way that started fires…
Edward Sapir (1884 – 1939) was one of Boas’s first students to study linguistics and later worked with Alfred Kroeber (another of Boas’s students) to document Native American languages in California. He believed that ethnology was the science of mental phenomena, and was therefore closely connected to psychology. Sapir focused on the individual, and his main interest was in the connection between language and thought, not language and behavior.
Alfred Kroeber was one of Boas’s first students at Columbia and was the first to receive a doctorate in anthropology from there. He took Boas’s course in Native American languages and became hooked after that.
Franz Boas is known as the founder of American anthropology. There have been many prominent figures and even “founding” figures in American anthropology, but if you had to choose one, Boas would be it.