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linguistic relativism


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The view that every language is a unique system of relations and, more radically, that the phonological, grammatical and semantic distinctions in different languages are completely arbitrary (see arbitrariness). Thus, on the semantic level, reality is divided up into arbitrary categories by every language and different languages have different in-built ontologies. Concepts may not be translatable (see translatability). Linguistic relativism emphasizes the contingency of signifieds. It is closely associated with epistemological relativism and is a fundamental assumption involved in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. An opposing viewpoint is that of linguistic universalism. See also linguistic determinism.


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