Through the Language Glass

Through the Language Glass

Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

Book - 2010
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A masterpiece of linguistics scholarship, at once erudite and entertaining, confronts the thorny question of how--and whether--culture shapes language and language, culture

Linguistics has long shied away from claiming any link between a language and the culture of its speakers: too much simplistic (even bigoted) chatter about the romance of Italian and the goose-stepping orderliness of German has made serious thinkers wary of the entire subject. But now, acclaimed linguist Guy Deutscher has dared to reopen the issue. Can culture influence language--and vice versa? Can different languages lead their speakers to different thoughts? Could our experience of the world depend on whether our language has a word for "blue"?

Challenging the consensus that the fundaments of language are hard-wired in our genes and thus universal, Deutscher argues that the answer to all these questions is--yes. In thrilling fashion, he takes us from Homer to Darwin, from Yale to the Amazon, from how to name the rainbow to why Russian water--a "she"--becomes a "he" once you dip a tea bag into her, demonstrating that language does in fact reflect culture in ways that are anything but trivial. Audacious, delightful, and field-changing, Through the Language Glass is a classic of intellectual discovery.

Publisher: New York : Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt and Co., 2010.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780805081954
Characteristics: 304 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm.


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Andrew Kyle Bacon
Apr 25, 2018

Such a strange book with such a strange premise.

I've long known that certain languages do not distinguish between blue and green, in fact I've studied two of them somewhat extensively: biblical Hebrew and Greek. But I never gave the issue much thought beyond writing it off as, "eh, they're different!" While my reaction was naively flippant, what I assumed was not entirely wrong. The fact is speakers of biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek viewed the world through a different lens than I do as an English speaker. That lens is a mixture of language and culture. But which does more to shape a person's perception of the world, her language or her culture?

Guy Deutscher takes a stab at finding an answer, and while some of his conclusions are at times not entirely satisfactory, overall the point seems clear: the language we speak changes how we view the world. Deutscher tackles three main areas where this is true: (1) color vocabulary, (2) grammatical gender, and (3) spatial vocabulary. His findings and conclusions are all fascinating, and they are all built on a well organized introduction which walks the reader through the history of the language-culture debate. This book tackles everything from Darwinist-racism to pseudo-science, and Homer to Hebrews.

A fascinating book filled with interesting information. If you have any interest in linguistics or culture in any regard, then read this book. While at times it gets somewhat technical, Deutscher does a good job of explaining himself and sticking with a topic until he has exhausted it. Which, to be fair, may be the book's greatest hurdle. At times it is exhausting to read. Normally with a book this size, it would only take me a few days to blaze through it, yet this one took a few weeks. So it's a slow read and requires digestion to full appreciate, but is well worth the investment.

Nov 29, 2014

This could have been a shorter book; the guy goes on and on about color so much so that i started skimming those sections by the end.
The directions chapter was better but also got repetitive.

but the subject matter is fascinating, for sure

srmechs Jun 22, 2013

. Thisis a readable analysis of how languages differ and why the differences matter. I’ve read very little in this field, so it has been an exciting journey with many surprises. I have a low tolerance for poor organization, pretentious language, or any talking down to the unenlightened proletariat. This writer is way beyond that level. It’s amazing how many scientists are writing for the reasonably well educated public these days. If you enjoy new ideas and exploration of new fields of learning, this is an excellent introduction to linguistics.

Dec 29, 2010

I found this book fascinating and entertaining. It's a little mind- boggling to think that our words may shape the way we see the world---or do they? It sure presents a good argument for learning other languages.


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