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On “Eskimo Words for Snow”

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This article examines the complex interdependence of linguistics and the discourses of social sciences and philosophy based on the example of the Eskimo words for snow. In particular, we trace the life cycle of the example through three phases: (1) the origin of the misconception in the studies of Franz Boas (1858–1942) and Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897–1941); (2) its propagation in textbooks and in sympathetic and alternative theoretical contexts, and (3) the contemporary status quo following the exposition of the misconception by Laura Martin (1986), Geoffrey Pullum (1989) and Steven Pinker (1994, 2007). Further, we examine the theoretical and methodological shortcomings of the exposition, and their implications for the poverty of critical and impartial discussion on the nature of linguistic categorization and its cognitive implications, as originally discussed by Boas and Whorf.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 17, 2010

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