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linguistic determinism


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A range of views in which our thinking (or worldview) is seen as being determined or shaped by language—simply by the use of verbal language and/or by the grammatical structures, semantic distinctions, and inbuilt ontologies within a language. A moderate version is that thinking may be influenced rather than unavoidably determined by language: it is a two-way process, so that the kind of language we use is also influenced by the way we see the world. Critics who are socially oriented emphasize the social context of language use rather than purely linguistic considerations; any influence is ascribed not to language as such (which would be to reify language) but to usage in particular contexts (see langue and parole) and to particular kinds of discourse (e.g. a sociolect). Both structuralists and poststructuralists give priority to the determining power of the language system: language patterns our experience and the subject is constructed through discourse. See also linguistic relativism; mould theory; Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.


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