Standard Article

Linguistic Relativity and Second Language Acquisition

  1. Panos Athanasopoulos

Published Online: 5 NOV 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0722

The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics

How to Cite

Athanasopoulos, P. 2012. Linguistic Relativity and Second Language Acquisition. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 NOV 2012


The principle of linguistic relativity was formulated by Benjamin Lee Whorf (1940/1956), but it is also often referred to as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis in reference to Whorf's mentor at Yale University, Edward Sapir. Whorf contended that while we all see the same objective reality, we nonetheless interpret and classify it differently, based on the categories made available in our language. Therefore, according to Whorf, speakers of different languages think and reason about the perceived world differently. For example, speakers of a language that uses one term to refer to the colors blue and green (a so-called grue term) evaluate the perceptual difference between blue and green stimuli as less significant than speakers of a language with distinct terms for blue and green (Kay & Kempton, 1984).


  • cognitive science;
  • culture;
  • linguistic anthropology;
  • perception;
  • psycholinguistics;
  • multilingualism