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Linguistic relativity from reference to agency

Enfield, N. J. (2015). Linguistic relativity from reference to agency. Annual Review of Anthropology, 44, 207-224. doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-102214-014053.
How are language, thought, and reality related? Interdisciplinary research on this question over the past two decades has made significant progress. Most of the work has been Neo-Whorfian in two senses: One, it has been driven by research questions that were articulated most explicitly and most famously by the linguistic anthropologist Benjamin Lee Whorf, and two, it has limited the scope of inquiry to Whorf's narrow interpretations of the key terms “language,” “thought,” and “reality.” This article first reviews some of the ideas and results of Neo-Whorfian work, concentrating on the special role of linguistic categorization in heuristic decision making. It then considers new and potential directions in work on linguistic relativity, taken broadly to mean the ways in which the perspective offered by a given language can affect thought (or mind) and reality. New lines of work must reconsider the idea of linguistic relativity by exploring the range of available interpretations of the key terms: in particular, “language” beyond reference, “thought” beyond nonsocial processing, and “reality” beyond brute, nonsocial facts.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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