"We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language... we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees."

Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941)

What do you think he really means by that?

  • 1
    Please include a link to the source.
    – zerohedge
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 10:57

1 Answer 1


To 'ascribe significances' to something means approximately to 'decide what is important about it'.

In context, I believe Whorf is saying that, having divided nature up into concepts, we then decide what the significance(s) of each of those concepts is - why each one is important, and what influence each has on us and the rest of the world.

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