He reasoned that because it is easier to formulate certain concepts and not others in a given language, the speakers of that language think along one track and not along another.
The newly described languages were often so strikingly different from the well-studied languages of Europe and Southeast Asia that some scholars even accused Boas and Sapir of fabricating their data.
Native American languages are indeed different, so much so in fact that Navajo could be used by the US military as a code during World War II to send secret messages.
Only recently did linguists begin the serious study of languages that were very different from their own.
Being interested in the relationship of language and thought, Whorf developed the idea that the structure of language determines the structure of habitual thought in a society.
The Greeks assumed that the structure of language had some connection with the process of thought, which took root in Europe long before people realized how diverse languages could be.
Other linguists in the earlier part of this century, however, who were less eager to deal with bizarre data from "exotic" language, were not always so grateful.
We are obliged to them because some of these languages have since vanished, as the peoples who spoke them died out or became assimilated and lost their native languages.
Two anthropologist-linguists, Franz Boas and Edward Sapir, were pioneers in describing many native languages of North and South America during the first half of the twentieth century.
Such behavior is regarded as "all too human", with the underlying assumption that other animals would not be capable of this finely developed sense of grievance.
However, when two monkeys were placed in separate but adjoining chambers, so that each could observe what the other was getting in return for its rock, their behavior became markedly different.
However, whether such a sense of fairness evolved independently in capuchins and humans, or whether it stems from the common ancestor that the species had 35 million years ago, is, as yet, an unanswered question.
But a study by Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, which has just been published in Nature, suggests that it is all too monkey, as well.
So when one monkey was handed a grape in exchange for her token, the second was reluctant to hand hers over for a mere piece of cucumber.
And if one received a grape without having to provide her token in exchange at all, the other either tossed her own token at the researcher or out of the chamber, or refused to accept the slice of cucumber.
Above all, like their female human counterparts, they tend to pay much closer attention to the value of "goods and services" than males.
Illustrated with an entertaining array of examples from both high and low culture, the trend that Mr. McWhorter documents is unmistakable.
Mr. McWhorter acknowledges that formal language is not strictly necessary, and proposes no radical education reforms — he is really grieving over the loss of something beautiful more than useful.
In his latest book, Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care, John McWhorter, a linguist and controversialist of mixed liberal and conservative views, sees the triumph of 1960s counter-culture as responsible for the decline of formal English.
Russians have a deep love for their own language and carry large chunks of memorized poetry in their heads, while Italian politicians tend to elaborate speech that would seem old-fashioned to most English-speakers.
As a linguist, he acknowledges that all varieties of human language, including non-standard ones like Black English, can be powerfully expressive — there exists no language or dialect in the world that cannot convey complex ideas.
While even the modestly educated sought an elevated tone when they put pen to paper before the 1960s, even the most well regarded writing since then has sought to capture spoken English on the page.
Mr. McWhorter's academic specialty is language history and change, and he sees the gradual disappearance of "whom", for example, to be natural and no more regrettable than the loss of the case-endings of Old English.
Now researchers suspect that dreams are part of the mind's emotional thermostat, regulating moods while the brain is "off-line".
But it's obvious that a majority of the president's advisers still don't take global warming seriously.
A century ago, Freud formulated his revolutionary theory that dreams were the disguised shadows of our unconscious desires and fears; by the late 1970s, neurologists had switched to thinking of them as just "mental noise" — the random byproducts of the neural-repair work that goes on during sleep.
If we are ever going to protect the atmosphere, it is crucial that those new plants be environmentally sound.
Because our conscious mind is occupied with daily life we don't always think about the emotional significance of the day's events — until, it appears, we begin to dream.
Visualize how you would like it to end instead; the next time it occurs, try to wake up just enough to control its course.
Most people seem to have more bad dreams early in the night, progressing toward happier ones before awakening, suggesting that they are working through negative feelings generated during the day.