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Humboldt, Worldview and Language

James W. Underhill

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With the loss of many of the world's languages, it is important to question what will be lost to humanity with their demise. It is frequently argued that a language engenders a 'worldview', but what do we mean by this term? Attributed to German politician and philologist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), the term has since been adopted by numerous linguists. Within specialist circles it has become associated with what is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which suggests that the nature of a language influences the thought of its speakers and that different language patterns yield different patterns of thought.

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Part I: Language and World
1, The Word is a World (La parole est un monde)
2, What do we have in mind when we talk about language?
3, What do we see in the term Worldview?
4, Boas
5, Sapir
6, Whorf
Part II: Humboldt, Man and Language
7, Worldview (Weltanschauung or Weltansicht)
8, Sprache
9, The Work of the Mind
10, Form
11, Creativity, Culture and Character
12, Catching the Character
13, A Seeing and Feeling Worldview
14, Four Dangers in the Comparative Approach
15, Reformulating the Worldview Hypothesis
16, A Final Word

About the Author

James W. Underhill is a Professor at Rouen University, France. He has worked as a professional translator of both French and Czech and has published articles on poetics, metaphor and translation.He is the author of Creating Worldviews: Ideology, Metaphor and Language (Edinburgh University Press, 2011) and Ethnolinguistics and Cultural Concepts: Truth, Love, Hate and War (Cambridge University Press, 2012). The Rouen Ethnolinguistics Project (REP) was founded by James W. Underhill in the framework of the ERIAC RESEARCH GROUP at the University of Rouen, in Northern France. REP aims to further investigations into the philosophy of language and explorations of worldviews. You can find out more about the project here: Rouen Ethnolinguistics Project


A thoughtful and helpful contribution on an important topic.

- Modern Language Review

James Underhill shows a great mastery concerning the general theory of language. It is extremely rare to find nowadays any thinker, either in linguistics or philosophy, whose thought continues the way Humboldt linked the word and the world.

- Henri Meschonnic, Paris VIII University