Wilhelm von Humboldt filosofo del linguaggio e il relativismo linguistico

  • Margherita De Luca Università di Roma "La Sapienza"
  • Stefano Gensini Università di Roma "La Sapienza"


A relevant aspect of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s influence on linguistic studies is the theory that the native language influences the way in which the speaking community organizes thought. Therefore, language is not just a simple instrument, but rather a condition of possibility of human knowledge. Starting from the 1920’s, this idea has been the axis of the so-called “linguistic relativism”, traditionally known as the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis”. In the first part of this article (§§ 1-4), we reconstruct Humboldt’s argument, placing it in the context of the history of Western linguistic thought. In the second part (§§ 5-7), we offer a brief history of the relativistic hypothesis, from its original formulation in the anthropological-linguistic school connected to the teaching of Franz Boas, up to the most recent proposals that find their starting point in the work of the North-American linguist John Lucy. We highlight how linguistic relativity represented a theoretical and methodological alternative to the Chomskian universalism. In conclusion, we illustrate how the relativistic theme was taken up in the context of second-generation cognitive studies, thanks to research on conceptual representations and language learning carried out by Lera Boroditsky and others.


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