The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language - John McWhorter (2014)



The truth about Hopi: Ekkehart Malotki, Hopi Time: A Linguistic Analysis of the Temporal Concepts in the Hopi Language (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1983), 534.

Hoijer on Navajo: Harry Hoijer, “Implications of Some Navaho Linguistic Categories,” in Language in Culture and Society, edited by Dell Hymes, 142–28 (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).

Deutscher, “Color may be the area …”: Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2011), 231.

Everett on cultural cloaks: Dan Everett, Language: The Cultural Tool (New York: Pantheon, 2012), 324.

Whorf on Newtonian science: John B. Carroll, ed., Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956), 154.

Pinker on Whorfianism: Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2007), 124–50.

Jakobson, “languages differ essentially …”: Roman O. Jakobson, “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation,” in On Translation, edited by R. A. Brower, 232–39 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), 236.

von Treitschke, “differences of language …”: Heinrich von Treitschke, The History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Gordon Craig (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 327.

Chapter 1

Casasanto study: Daniel Casasanto, “Space for Thinking,” in Language, Cognition, and Space: State of the Art and New Directions, edited by V. Evans and P. Chilton, 453–78 (London: Equinox Publishing, 2010).

Pinker while writing The Stuff of Thought: Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (London: Allen Lane, 2007), 124.

The Herero people: Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2011), p. 62, citing Hugo Magnus, Untersuchungen über den Farbensinn der Naturvölker (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1880), 9.

Pirahã: What kicked off the media storm was Peter Gordon, “Numerical Cognition without Words,” Science 306 (2004): 496–99. The more general portrait of Pirahã and its peculiarity compared to Western ones was Dan Everett, “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language,” Current Anthropology 46 (2005): 621–46.

Pirahã and numbers: The handiest source for getting a look at the controversy is Andrew Nevins, David Pesetsky, and Cilene Rodrigues, “Pirahã Exceptionality: A Reassessment,” Language 85 (2009): 355–404, esp. 384–85, and Everett’s reply, equally key to evaluating the issue, Daniel Everett, “Pirahã Culture and Grammar: A Response to Some Criticisms,” Language 85 (2009): 405–42, esp. 424–25.

Pinker on snow: Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, 125–26.

Guugu Yimithirr: Stephen C. Levinson, “Relativity in Spatial Conception and Description,” in Rethinking Linguistic Relativity, edited by John J. Gumperz and Stephen C. Levinson, 177–202 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 180–81.

Tzeltal: Penelope Brown and Steven Levinson, “‘Uphill’ and ‘Downhill’ in Tzeltal,” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 3 (1993): 46–74.

The table experiment: with the Tzeltal, Peggy Li and Leila Gleitman, “Turning the Tables: Language and Spatial Reasoning,” Cognition 83 (2002): 265–94; with the Tzotzil, Leila Gleitman, Peggy Li, A. Papafragou, C. R. Gallistel, and L. Abarbanell, “Spatial Reasoning and Cognition: Cross-linguistic Studies,” University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychology presentation slides, 2005.

Japanese experiment: Mutsumi Imai and Dedre Gentner, “A Crosslinguistic Study of Early Word Meaning: Universal Ontology and Linguistic Influence,” Cognition 62 (1997): 169–200.

How other people with number/stuff languages feel: John A. Lucy, Language Diversity and Thought: A Reformulation of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 146.

Yucatec: Lucy, Language Diversity and Thought, 140–41.

Mandarin debate: Lera Boroditsky, “Does Language Shape Thought? Mandarin and English Speakers’ Conception of Time,” Cognitive Psychology 43 (2001): 1–22, and David January and Edward Kako, “Re-evaluating Evidence for Linguistic Relativity: Reply to Boroditsky (2001),” Cognition 104 (2006): 417–26.

Boroditsky’s reply: Lera Boroditsky, Orly Fuhrman, and Kelly McCormick, “Do English and Mandarin Speakers Think about Time Differently?” Cognition (2010) (online publication).

Chapter 2

Whorf on patterns: John B. Carroll, ed., Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956), 252.

Comment on Rossel Island language: Beatrice Grimshaw, Guinea Gold (London: Mills & Boon, 1912), 191–92.

Tuyuca evidential markers: Janet Barnes, “Evidentials in the Tuyuca Verb,” International Journal of American Linguistics 50 (1984): 255–71.

Korean kids and evidential markers: Anna Papafragou, Peggy Li, Youngon Choi, and Chung-Hye Han, “Evidentiality in Language and Cognition,” Cognition 103 (2007): 253–99.

The distribution of evidential markers: Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil, and Bernard Comrie, The World Atlas of Language Structures (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 316–17.

Articles worldwide: Frans Plank and Edith Moravcsik, “The Maltese Article: Language-Particulars and Universals.” Rivista di Linguistica 8 (1996): 183–212.

Eating verbs in New Guinea and Jarawara: Alexandra Aikhenvald, “‘Eating,’ ‘Drinking,’ and ‘Smoking’: A Generic Verb and Its Semantics in Manambu,” in The Linguistics of Eating and Drinking, edited by John Newman, 91–108 (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1996).

Nunamiut and Tareumiut: Allen Johnson and Timothy Earle, The Evolution of Human Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1987).

Dropping t’s and d’s: Gregory Guy, “Variation in the Group and the Individual: The Case of Final Stop Deletion,” in Locating Language in Time and Space, edited by William Labov, 1–36 (New York: Academic Press, 1980).

Berber: E. Destaing, Vocabulaire Français-Berbère: Étude sur la tachelhît du soûs (Paris: Librairie Ernest Leroux, 1938).

Harrison: K. David Harrison, The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2010), 237–38.

Chapter 3

You in Chinese: Susan D. Blum, “Naming Practices and the Power of Words in China,” Language in Society 26 (1997): 357–79.

Ethnography of communication: The classic anthology, including an article on the Kuna of Panama, is Richard Bauman and Joel Sherzer, Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974).

The Kuna: The detailed treatment, as opposed to the article-length one in the source above, is Joel Sherzer, Kuna Ways of Speaking (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983).

Adults streamlining languages: I discuss this in my books Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: A New History of English (New York: Gotham Books, 2008) and What Language Is (And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be) (New York: Gotham Books, 2011). I also recommend Peter Trudgill, Sociolinguistic Typology: Social Determinants of Linguistic Complexity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Chapter 4

Atsugewi sentence: Leonard Talmy, “Semantic Structures in English and Atsugewi,” PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1972.

Whorf on less complex languages: John B. Carroll, ed., Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956), 83.

Bloom study: Alfred H. Bloom, The Linguistic Shaping of Thought: A Study in the Impact of Language on Thinking in China and the West (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1981).

Responses to Bloom: Terry Kit-Fong Au, “Chinese and English Counterfactuals: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Revisited,” Cognition 15 (1983): 155–87; Terry Kit-Fong Au, “Counterfactuals: In Reply to Alfred Bloom,” Cognition17 (1984): 289–302; L. G. Liu, “Reasoning Counterfactually in Chinese: Are There Any Obstacles?” Cognition 21 (1985): 239–70; Donna Lardiere, “On the Linguistic Shaping of Thought: Another Response to Alfred Bloom,” Language in Society 21 (1992): 231–51; David Yeh and Dedre Gentner, “Reasoning Counterfactually in Chinese: Picking Up the Pieces,” Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, edited by B. G. Bara, L. Barsalou, and M. Bucciarelli, 2410–15 (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, 2005).

Oral culture and questions: Shirley Brice Heath, Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

Peasants and puzzles: Alexandr Romanovich Luria, Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations, edited by Michael Cole, translated by Martin Lopez-Morillas and Lynn Soltaroff (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976).

Gendered things: Lera Boroditsky, Lauren A. Schmidt, and Webb Phillips, “Sex, Syntax, and Semantics,” in Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought, edited by Dedre Gentner and Susan Goldin-Meadow, 61–79 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003).

Dinka plurals: D. Robert Ladd, Bert Remijsen, and Cahuor Adong Manyang, “On the Distinction between Regular and Irregular Inflectional Morphology,” Language 85 (2009): 659–70.

Laotian sentence: N. J. Enfield, A Grammar of Lao (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2007), 530.

Future tense and savings rates: Keith Chen, “The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets,” Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper no. 1820, Yale University, August 2012.

Number words in Chinese and Thai: Fabian Bross and Phillip Pfaller, “The Decreasing Whorf-effect: A Study in the Classifier Systems of Mandarin and Thai,” Journal of Unsolved Questions 2 (2012): 19–24.

Chapter 5

Black English and logic: Carl Bereiter, Siegfried Englemann, J. Osborn, and P. A. Reidford, “An Academically Oriented Pre-school for Culturally Deprived Children,” in Pre-school Education Today, edited by Fred M. Hechinger, 105–36 (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1966).

Jensen position: Arthur Jensen, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” Harvard Educational Review 39 (1969): 1–123.

Jarawara they: R. M. W. Dixon, The Jarawara Language of Southern Amazonia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 77–88.

Abley on Algonquian: Mark Abley, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 276–77.

Manambu in the night: Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, The Manambu Language East Sepik, Papua New Guinea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 522.

Whorf on Hopi and flying things: John B. Carroll, ed., Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956), 210.

Verbs of knowing: Abley, Spoken Here, 48.

Chapter 6

Abley on Mohawk: Mark Abley, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 188–89.

Wilson on Russian: Lewis A. Dabney, Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 409.

Kawesqar: Jack Hitt, “Say No More,” New York Times, February 29, 2004.

Generic pronouns as sexist: Megan M. Miller and Lorie E. James, “Is the Generic Pronoun He Still Comprehended as Excluding Women?” American Journal of Psychology 122 (2009): 483–96.

Koasati: Mary Haas, “Men and Women’s Speech in Koasati,” in Language in Culture and Society, edited by Dell Hymes, 228–33 (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).

Kũrux: Francis Ekka, “Men and Women’s Speech in Kurux,” Linguistics 81 (1972): 21–31.

Treatment of women in feminine-default languages: Dan Everett, Language: The Cultural Tool (New York: Pantheon, 2012), 209–10.

On Australian languages and time: Wade Davis, The World Until Yesterday, by Jared Diamond (book review), The Guardian, January 9, 2013.

Get in English: Anna Wierzbicka, English: Meaning and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 171–203.

Get languages: N. J. Enfield, “On Genetic and Areal Linguistics in Mainland South-east Asia: Parallel Polyfunctionality of ‘Acquire,’” in Areal Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance, edited by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald and R. M. W. Dixon, 255–90 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Haitian pronouns: Amy Wilentz, Farewell, Fred Voodoo (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 82.

Lakoff: The book-length presentation was George Lakoff, Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004).

Brown’s universals: Donald E. Brown, Human Universals (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 130–41.

Lahu sentence: James A. Matisoff, “Lahu,” in The Sino-Tibetan Languages, edited by Graham Thurgood and Randy J. LaPolla, 208–21 (London: Routledge, 2003), 219.

Saramaka artists: Sally Price and Richard Price, Maroon Arts: Cultural Vitality in the African Diaspora (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 132–33.

Testicles and months in Lahu: James A. Matisoff, The Grammar of Lahu (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 147–48.