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Through the Language Glass: Why the World…

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other… (2010)

by Guy Deutscher

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9023515,551 (3.84)38
A masterpiece of linguistics scholarship, at once erudite and entertaining, confronts the thorny question of how--and whether--culture shapes language and language, culture.
Recently added byprivate library, Arst, bookworm148, aloub, BrandyLuther, matt_ar, Charlie_Miller
  1. 40
    The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker (petterw)
  2. 10
    What Language Is: And What It Isn't and What It Could Be! by John McWhorter (amyblue)
  3. 00
    The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes (chmod007)
    chmod007: The first few chapters of Through The Language Glass talk about color as a cultural construct, drawing upon 19th century inquiries into the works of Homer and his seeming indifference to the finer hues of the spectrum. The beginning of TOOCITBOTBM starts with a similar exploration of ancient conceptions (or lack thereof) of consciousness, supported by linguistic evidence.… (more)

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» See also 38 mentions

English (33)  Spanish (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Very, very readable, the kind of book you'll be discussing with friends after putting it down. The color chapters are by far the strongest (first and last). He gives a careful dissecting of Whorfianism and showing why he's not defending that (a good debate strategy, to be sure); however, other works argue that the evidence presented therein really does have cause and effect backwards (as far as language and thought).

I would strongly recommend reading this in conjunction with Christine Kennealy's "The First Word" and Steven Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought," and drawing your own conclusions, assuming of course you're a linguistics nerd and have a lot of time on your hands. This, you'll get through fairly quickly: Pinker especially, though, will take you some chewing. ( )
  charlyk | Nov 15, 2019 |
His charming writing style kept me going, but I think this could have been condensed into a long essay without losing any substance. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
Just fascinating (but not quite as fascinating, for me, as his Unfolding of Language. This one has a slightly more generally-scientific bent while the other is more linguistic. I learned an awful lot about colour, the way we give directions, and much more. He's a terrific writer, and is on my "I will read him about any subject" mental list.

(Note: 5 stars = amazing, wonderful, 4 = very good book, 3 = decent read, 2 = disappointing, 1 = awful, just awful. I'm fairly good at picking for myself so end up with a lot of 4s). ( )
  ashleytylerjohn | Sep 19, 2018 |
My interest in [b: Through the Language Glass|8444621|Through the Language Glass Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages|Guy Deutscher|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1317066228s/8444621.jpg|13232704] came from a conversation with a friend about how the color blue was relatively recent 'invention.' This was not that the color blue didn't exist in antiquity, but rather that it didn't go by that name. How then, did the ancients view blue? How did they view colors? Like most things, there's a book for that.

[b: Through the Language Glass|8444621|Through the Language Glass Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages|Guy Deutscher|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1317066228s/8444621.jpg|13232704] not only delves into the complicated world of how language and culture affects how we organize colors, and perhaps even how we see them, but also how the science of how we perceive color and name it developed over time. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is also delved into, as are the multitude of problems with it and where they just may have gotten things right. This book is dense with information, riveting in what new discoveries and alternative hypotheses it discusses, and rife with good humor.

While this book was a dry read at times, it was one I could not put down for the sheer interesting nature of all it discusses. It's a shame that so much of these topics have yet to be thoroughly discussed, but this book seems to be bringing glad tidings of a shift in focus that is more welcoming towards how culture affects language and perception. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
The Sapir-Whorf theory of sociolinguistics was trendy almost 100 years ago: it suggested that the language we use controls the way that we think. It's an initially intriguing hypothesis with a lot of instinctual appeal. If a language doesn't have a word for a particular phenomenon, or lacks a particular tense, why wouldn't speakers of that language have a hard time conceiving of that phenomenon or that kind of world? Until you realize that some languages, like the Italian I studied as an undergrad, have an entire tense for the remote past, passato remoto, while the English language doesn't. Does that mean English speakers can't conceive of events very far in the past? Of course not. Does that mean that we don't understand implicitly terms like saudade, a melancholy longing for things that are gone and will never come back? Again, of course not, but for a while educated people would have thought so.

Deutscher reinvigorates the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis among a very few limited lines: primarily, he focuses on the idea that our languages impact how we think about color, along with how we process geolocation, and objects in gendered languages. As speakers of a neuter language, we don't think about objects as inherently gendered things. But if you speak a language that thinks of bridges as masculine, like Spanish, bridges are strong and sturdy. If you speak a language that thinks of bridges as feminine, like German, however, you're much more likely to implicitly think of bridges as beautiful and delicate. And color! There's an incredible explanation of the Homeric description of the sea as "wine-dark" that I can't possibly condense, but if you're into this kind of thing, you'll be enraptured.

Fascinating stuff, for a person who has a real interest in psychology and language. If not, probably not a text for you. Since I'm the former rather than the latter, I loved this book and found it incredibly compelling. ( )
1 vote 500books | May 22, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Deutscher starts with the puzzling fact that many languages lack words for what (to English speakers) seem to be basic colors. For anyone interested in the development of ideas, Deutscher’s first four chapters make fascinating reading. Did you know that the British statesman William Gladstone was also an accomplished Greek scholar who, noting among other things the surprising absence of any term for “blue” in classical Greek texts, theorized that full-color vision had not yet developed in humans when those texts were composed? Or that a little-known 19th-century philologist named Lazarus Geiger made profound and surprising discoveries about how languages in general divide up the color spectrum, only to have his discoveries ignored and forgotten and then rediscovered a century later?
Deutscher argues that the key to differences between languages is a contained in a maxim of the linguist Roman Jakobson: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” As an example, he quotes the English statement, “I spent last night with a neighbour”, in which we may keep private whether the person was male or female.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guy Deutscherprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pfeiffer, MartinÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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