Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour your World
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Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour your World

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  1,643 ratings  ·  278 reviews
Generalisations about language and culture are at best amusing and meaningless, but is there anything sensible left to be said about the relation between language, culture and thought?


*Does language reflect the culture of a society?


*Is our mother-tongue a lens through which we perceive the world?


*Can different languages lead their speakers to different thoughts?





In Through...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 3rd 2010 by William Heinemann (first published 2010)
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Jan Rice

--from the BrainyQuote Facebook page

Nature or nurture?

In the mid-19th century, William Gladstone, eminent British statesman and, in view of how we think of politicians nowadays, improbable source of scientific erudition, noted through his Homeric studies that the ancients didn't see color as we do. Wine-dark sea! And not only that, but violet sea, violet wool on sheep, and violet iron. And green--chlôros--for yes, sprouts--but twigs? Cyclops' club? Honey?

Poetic license, scoffed his naysayers, bu...more
·Karen·
Sep 28, 2011 ·Karen· rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Language nerds
Shelves: non-fiction
This is what I call Having a Really Good Time. Yes, I know, but then some people go ice-fishing. For fun. So, if (like me) you are a language geek and have a fairly quiet life, then this might be your idea of a high old time too. Because Guy Deutscher manages that most demanding combination. On one hand, he is an academic linguist, which you might assume would mean he uses phrases like pro-drop parameter or boundary conditions or declarative sentences or funny words like morpheme or evidentialit...more
David
The first foreign language I learned to complete fluency was German - after five years of high school German I spent a year at a German boys' boarding school. At the end of that year I was completely fluent, but noticed an odd phenomenon, that I felt like a slightly different person when I spoke German than when speaking English. Since then I've also learned Spanish to a high degree of fluency, and the same observation holds. In both cases, the main difference that I perceive has to do with humo...more
Madeleine
I finished this book, like, two weeks ago, right when my job's special breed of life-consuming crazy was bearing down on me with an animalistic rabidity. Let's see what I remembered about it, aside from the fact that it was generously packed with treats that made my inner word-nerd dance oh-so-whitely with joy.

First of all, the author's first language is Yiddish. Seeing as I know far more native-tongue butchers of English than I do folks who can finesse the language like they're trying to get in...more
Geoffrey Fox
This digressive examination of whether and, if so, how a speaker's language structures his/her thoughts contains two interesting arguments bundled with amusing anecdotes about odd languages and linguists. Some of the descriptions of non-Western languages, and even of Western languages (English among them) at earlier stages of development, show truly surprising ways of putting together information, such as numbers of tenses, whether person and time of action are included in verb or noun or in sep...more
Nikki
I can understand people who feel that Through the Language Glass didn't quite fulfill its promise. The subtitle might be more accurately, "does the world look different in other languages?" And the answer is yes, but in a limited way that won't be satisfying to those who want the answer to be an unequivocal yes. People feel that the world is different (for them) in different languages, and even that they are different in other languages, but there just isn't the scientific data to back those fee...more
Kim
A fascinating book on the links between language and culture that sets out to prove that language can impact on the way we think. There is quite a heavy emphasis on colour (some of which is difficult to comprehend as a colourblind person) but there's also sections on spacial orientation and gender.

The book is well written and manages to make what could be very dry become easily accessible without being patronising. There's a few humourous inserts throughout and I never felt overwhelmed with tech...more
Jan
Another brilliant work of popular science from linguist Guy Deutscher. "Through the Language Glass" aims to bring the reader up to date on an easy-to-formulate but nearly impossible-to-answer question in linguistics: to what degree does one's language impact one's thought processes?

This exploration centers around a very specific phenomenon, which is that languages differ in their stock of words for colors, and why some languages (like English) have names for all the colors we would commonly plac...more
Lena Tumasyan
As a native Russian speaker, I always felt different from Americans. I've always wondered if the language i was brought up with altered my thinking in ways Americans weren't. I was hoping to get the answer in this book and I was really disappointed.

The book started out strong, showing how 3 different languages defined "culture" in different ways (French being most romantic and German being most brutal). But then once I started reading the book, it never really delved deeply into the subject of h...more
Charlie
This book uses three 'case studies' (colour, gender and spacial awareness) to look at how language affects our view of the world, our thinking and our memory.

The first third of the book looks in depth at the history of the study of how colour is described by various international and classical cultures and how the differences have been (miss)interpreted by an assortment of learned gentlemen over the years. This gives a very nice springboard to the reader to see the types of pitfalls that such st...more
William Herschel
Through the Language Glass starts on a hefty quest, to convince us that one's native tongue does in fact influence how one sees the world. You can tell the author is cautious. In fact, he spends the whole first half of the book detailing the history of people in the past trying to answer questions about how language develops (a result of nature or culture) and if people see the world differently because of their language so he can demonstrate the past errors in what people thought and avoid them...more
Jill
Guy Deutscher's Through the Language Glass, which looks at the relationship between language, culture and perception, wasn't quite what I'd expected. Honestly, I'd expected a variation of that old chestnut on the Eskimos having a gazillion words for the concept of "snow", to explain how our environment and culture shapes the language we speak. Deutscher's book surpassed those expectations.

There are a few painful moments in the book, when Deutscher attempts to make some witty puns (this is a boo...more
Ruth Kunstadter
Really disappointed in this. Well, disappointed in what I read ... the book focused almost exclusively on color, and how the way we describe or see color is related to language. The author is color-blind, I believe, which I suppose explains this. However, I was expecting a book about how we *feel* different when we switch from one language to another, and that's not what this was. On the other hand, I am also somewhat relieved that the book isn't what I thought, since that's the book that I've b...more
Cynthia Frazer
The writer's voice was truly irritating, but I was so interested in the differences in color perception in non-European languages, and conventions of orientation in conversation, among other topics, that I mentally told him to shut up several times, while I kept reading. His ego ALMOST obscured the fascinating content.
Jm_oriol
Interesantísima la historia de la evolución de los nombres de los colores en los diferentes lenguajes. Realmente el lenguaje materno influye en la visión que se tiene del mundo.
!Tæmbuŝu
Jun 12, 2010 !Tæmbuŝu marked it as to-read
Shelves: language, science
Reviewed by The Guardian
Hilary
Non fiction for fun, hooray!

I picked this up while house sitting for my former adviser, who is a language/linguistics researcher of sorts. Since I was actively attempting to avoid writing my dissertation proposal, I read this instead, and was immediately hooked. I remembered my page and then got it out of the library. (However, it has taken me longer than I'd like to finish reading it because I actually started writing.)

This is an absolutely brilliant argument for how culture begets language be...more
Joaquim Rocha
Jul 13, 2011 Joaquim Rocha rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joaquim by: Claudio Saavedra
Shelves: languages
If you speak more than one language or like languages in general than you must read this book.
"Through the Language Glass", from the linguist Guy Deutscher, talks about the particularities of languages and the way it influences people's thoughts.

The book offers an overview of different theories from linguistics on how speakers of certain tribes could be color blind or unable understand the concept of time like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis advocated.
While Deutscher recognizes we do not know much ab...more
Al Bità
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about language, mostly because the information provided is done so with great verve and charm by the author. His chatty style is most disarming — this is a man who knows how to educate his readers almost effortlessly: he will occasionally lead you astray deliberately, so that he can later point out what further research has revealed. And it is quite rewarding!

This book limits itself to three specific aspects of language: the words used in languages for colo...more
David
Warning for users of black-and-white-only ebook readers. Long stretches of this book are about how we perceive and express colors, which you might not immediately guess from its title and on-line description. It is difficult to understand these portions of the book without consulting the book-end photographic insert of color photographs and color samples. If my old-school black-and-white ebook reader were my only e-method of reading this book, I would have felt greatly cheated by this book. As i...more
Emily Peterson
I really enjoyed this book. I found out about it randomly while researching the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis/linguistic relativity and just recently got the chance to check it out at the library. In the book, Deutscher basic adopts a watered down view of the hypothesis -- that language doesn't prevent us from understanding concepts (e.g., it is not the case that if your language doesn't have a word for blue, you can't conceptualize "blue"), but rather what details language forces us to pay attention t...more
Kelly Wagner
I enjoy reading popularized science, and this counts as science - somewhere between the social science of anthropology and the physical science of biology. Reading the various examples of how different languages divide up color and gender was fun - did you know that some languages have 5 genders, not just male and female and neuter to correspond with what we think of as gender and that most European languages use as gender (English is deficient on this one; only our pronouns are gendered except...more
Bjoern
An interesting book with a lot of historical annotations on the birth and slow decline of an idea that was once popular and is now thought obsolete... I'm just slightly disappointed that Guy Deutscher used so much space to explain the idea (language can change the way how we look at the world) and how it came into being, then discusses indications and counterindications that spoke for or against this idea but when he finally comes to a conclusion it is found in much less space or width.

Yes, i li...more
Charlotte Ehrukainen
Jul 11, 2014 Charlotte Ehrukainen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Linguists, Language Lovers
Reading this book took me a little longer than I would have normally expected. I think, though, that the fault is more my lack of time than any problem with the book itself. Through the Language Glass is certainly a book that you want to be able to sit down and just read, without interruption. That way I think you'll get the most out of it, and be able to happily mull over what the words are telling you.
I really enjoyed this book. There were frequently parts that made me stop and think. More of...more
Simon
One small criticism first: this was in some ways less far-ranging and comprehensive than I'd imagined, focussing on just three aspects of language and the perception of reality - colour, gender and spatial relations. And the sections on colour account for almost half the book. This can be forgiven as these are the only areas in which any serious and conclusive research has been done.
But once you get past that narrowing of the scope, this is a still an eye-opening and enormously readble book, ful...more
djcb
Book about the way language influences the way we think -- and vice-versa. While the famous Sapir-Whorf thesis has been debunked (and is a bit of an embarrassment for linguists), in the end it seems that language and our thinking *do* have have some influence upon each other.

I enjoyed the discussion of Homer and the weird usage of colors, and the way some Australian tribes use an absolute (well, with earth as the frame of reference) coordinate system rather than 'left of me', 'in front of me' et...more
Deborah
In describing the evolution of color concepts, when "blue" was not yet recognized and subsumed under either black or green, I like the phrase the characterizes the debate between nature and culture as being about: "the relation between what the eye can see and what language can describe."

Thank of Homer's oxen being wine-colored, and him raving about "green honey." The Indian Vedas and the Bible, Icelandic sagas, and even the Koran bear evidence of color deficiencies. The sun and reddening dawn's...more
Becky
This book was a fascinating inquiry into who language affects the way people think. While sometimes I got a little bogged down in the history of schools of thought in linguistics, for the most part this book was fascinated. I'm so intrigued by how languages can structure things in so many vastly different ways.

Some interesting tidbits:
- The different ways different languages define colors and how what in English may be two completely different colors, like blue and green, for example, can both...more
Robin
This is a super-intellectual/adademic book about how our mother tongue can affect our thinking. Nevertheless, it is quite interesting, mostly. I say "mostly" because some of the concepts are repeated over and over. It gets quite dull.

The important concepts of the book are:
1) Which mother tongue we experience CAN affect our thinking, and
2) All ideas in the universe can be communicated in every language.

I feel the ways our mother tongue can affect our thinking are so small and inconsequential,...more
Alex Templeton
One of the best classes I took during my time at Sarah Lawrence was a class called Linguistic Anthropology (and not just because we got to write a paper that focused on a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode!). In this class, we discussed how language and culture often have a reciprocal relationship. This book revisited some familiar friends from that class--Franz Boas! Edward Sapir! Benjamin Whorf!--but, in some ways, disputed their findings. It was definitely a cool feeling to see the evol...more
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There is more than one author with this name

Guy Deutscher is the author of Through the Language Glass and The Unfolding of Language. Formerly a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge and of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Languages in the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he is an honorary Research Fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures in the University of Manc...more
More about Guy Deutscher...
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“And if Germans do have systematic minds, this is just as likely to be because their exceedingly erratic mother tongue has exhausted their brains' capacity to cope with any further irregularity” 7 likes
“Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language knows only too dearly that languages can be full of pointless irregularities that increase complexity considerably without contributing much to the ability to express ideas. English, for instance, would have losed none of its expressive power if some of its verbs leaved their irregular past tense behind and becomed regular.” 4 likes
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