Linguistic theory, linguistic diversity and Whorfian economics

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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
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Economics and Language
EditorsVictor Ginsburgh, Shlomo Weber
Place of PublicationHoundmills Basingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Number of pages44
ISBN (Print)978-1-137-32504-4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2016


  • languages
  • linguistic dynamics
  • linguistic theory


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