Linguistic theory, linguistic diversity and Whorfian economics

Fabb, Nigel; Ginsburgh, Victor and Weber, Shlomo, eds. (2016) Linguistic theory, linguistic diversity and Whorfian economics. In: The Palgrave Handbook of Economics and Language. Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills Basingstoke, pp. 17-60. ISBN 978-1-137-32504-4

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    Languages vary greatly in their words, sounds and sentence structures. Linguistic theory has shown that many aspects of variation are superficial and may not reflect underlying formal similarities between languages, which are relevant to how humans learn and process language. In this chapter, I show both how languages can vary and how the surface variations can be manifestations of underlying similarities. Economists have sometimes adopted a ‘Whorfian’ view that differences in languages can cause differences in how their speakers think and behave. Psychological experiments have shown both support for this hypothesis and evidence against it. Specific arguments that language causes thought, which have been made in recent economics papers, are examined in the light of what linguistics tells us about superficial and underlying variation