Gulnara Saparova
ESL 91
Spring, 2000

Essay Topic: Discuss the interaction of language and culture in terms of the theory expressed by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. Do you agree with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis regarded as a valid theory of language?

Our language is an important part of our identity as human beings. People understand each other by language. When a child says his first word, his parents feel glad because it means that child to be able to communicate with them. When we grow up, our language develops and improves. We can express our love, our happiness, our pain by words, by language.

The creation and transmission of culture depends heavily on the human capacity to develop and use language. Equipped with language, humans can transmit their experiences, ideas, and knowledge to others. Children can be taught things without any actual experience of their part. Although it may take some time and repetition, children can be taught the dangers of fire and heights without being burned or toppling down the stairs. This principle of learning, of course, applies to other cultural patterns, such as exhibiting patriotism, consuming food, or staying awake in church. The interaction of language and culture in terms of the theory expressed by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf that only through language culture can be created.

Two early linguists, Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf, theorized that language determines culture. According to their theory, known as the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis”, members of different cultures see the world differently because they draw upon different linguistic categories to interpret it. According to Edwadrd Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, language is our guide to reality; our view of the world depends on the particular language we have learned. Our perception of reality is at the mercy of the words and grammatical rules of our language. And because our perceptions are different, our worlds are different. This is known as the hypothesis of linguistic relativity.

First there was language, then there was culture. Culture was born from language. People began to speak and then create culture. Depending on our language, we have a specific culture. For example, Americans use only a handful of words to describe snow, including the actual word snow, sleet, freezing rain and a few others. Eskimos, on the other hand, have many words to describe snow. Snow that is falling, snow on the ground, snow in blocks, and snow that makes wavy patterns each are explained through the use of separate words. Snow is a central feature in Eskimo culture. Snow is big part of their life, thus it is essential describe it very specifically.

Culture has three different parts. These are the material, the normative and the cognitive. The material part is when people can touch things. The normative part includes such things as norms, sanctions, and behavior. The cognitive part is how people feel, how they think and imagine. We can say, that all of these parts of Eskimo culture are connected within word “snow”. The normative part of their culture showed that when snow fell, it is regular life for Eskimos. The cognitive part showed how happy they are when snow fell. It is not negative for Eskimos. In contrast, people who live in New York get depressed when snow falls, because snow brings a lot of problems. American streets are dirty and slippery and Americans feel uncomfortable.

I think a good example about how language creates culture is the wild child Genie, who was isolated. She had lived without people for thirteen years. She couldn’t speak without language, without communication with other people. Her social behavior was primitive. Whorf believed that humans may be able to think only about objects, processes, and conditions that have language associated with them. If Genie never learned linguistic relationships, she couldn’t learn societal or cultural relationships. Since she didn’t learn these basic skills, she couldn’t and now can’t create culture.         

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis also explains the relationship between different languages (French, English, Chinese) and thought in these different cultures. I am from Belarus. I studied the Russian language and of course my culture is Russian. And even when I began to study the English language, my own culture is still Russian. When I arrived in America, I didn’t know the English language. It was a culture shock for me because without the English language I couldn’t understand American people, American traditions, and their culture. But now, when I study English, I feel more comfortable because I am able to speak with American people; I am able to understand how they think whether I share their thought or not.

In contrast, my mother doesn’t speak English. She doesn’t like America or American traditions. Why? How can she like them, if she doesn’t know the language of the country? If we want to understand another culture we should study the language of this country because language creates culture.

My daughter is ten years old. She was born in Belarus, but she is growing up in America. She lives among American friends and American traditions. When she grows up, her own language will be English. But she lives in a Russian family, which has Russian traditions. Consequently her culture will include two cultures- Russian and American. If we continue to live in America, my grandchildren will be born in America and they will have the American culture.


I appreciate my English teacher for giving me the topic in the essay about the interaction of language and culture in terms of the theory expressed by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. It was so complicated for me because before the English class I had never heard about the theory. I never knew how language and thought were closely related. I had to find a lot of information for my arguments.

I got a lot of information not only about the theory but also about other linguistic, sociology and anthropology scientists. I improved my computer skills. I did a lot of research on the computer.

Moreover my English language became richer. I had experiences with writing. I learned how put my information together.

I hope my project about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis can help the reader to understand the interaction of language and culture as it helped me. It was complicated, but interesting.


Our language creates our culture. What our language is and where we live will determine our culture. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis described this relationship. The debate about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis will probably never be settled because the hypothesis can be interpreted in many ways, which are all valid.

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