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Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour your World

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  2,191 ratings  ·  336 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
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 3rd 2010 by William Heinemann (first published 2010)
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Jan 20, 2015 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Betsy
This is a fascinating book about how culture shapes language, and how language shapes our view of reality. Guy Deutscher is a linguist, and he separates out in some detail, the facts of this subject from fiction.

Because, there is a lot of "fiction". Much of what we have heard about how language shapes our world-view is false. Nietzsche's line that "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world" is absolutely false. A true statement would be "Languages differ in what they must convey, not
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
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

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
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
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
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
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
I really enjoyed this book, even though, or maybe because, it was not at all what I expected. I was expecting a kind of language survey detailing the ways in which various languages differ from each other that might possibly be related to culture. For example, the rather overplayed number of different words Inuit has for snow. I did not expect a very well written argument against some of the widely accepted tenets of linguistic theory, such as the Chomsky/Pinker belief that language is an inborn ...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
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
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
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
Chris Miller
In college I majored in linguistics with a specialization in cognition, and minored in psychology. My favorite part of this language/brain area of study was linguistic relativity (A.K.A. the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)--although I didn't have time then to do anything but scratch the surface. The premise is that the language(s) you speak affect the way you think/perceive reality, and that the way you think/perceive reality molds the language(s) you speak; creating a self-reinforcing cycle.

It's been
I enjoyed this book. The title for me was a bit misleading, at least for the first part of the book, which was mostly about out color sense and how we perceive colors and the role that language plays in that perception. I was not expecting this and so it threw me off a bit but the author’s excellent writing style quickly had me feeling at ease.

About the writing style, it is relaxed and playful. The author is a punster and the book is littered with witty puns throughout (even the appendix has a p
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
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
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
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
How I came across this book:
A while ago, I was asked if I ever read anything light and humorous. For me that meant Jeeves and I never did get into Wodehouse. Soon afterwards, a friend spontaneously took me to a used bookstore. Typically, I have too long a read list to bother with just looking for what happens to come across. However, I had been recommended to check this book out when it was published, now I was just in the middle of a frustrating introductory course on generative grammar and wan
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.
Jessica Lam
This is a fun book, especially if you have even a passing knowledge of a couple of languages. It brings up questions that he describes as exciting teenage musings and, through the stumbles of linguists past, slowly reveals the puzzle pieces that they have of this largely unfinished mystery. If you're an active reader, it's a great exercise in critical thinking on a fascinating subject. Also, he is at times enthusiastic about puns, which I can appreciate (especially an artfully done conned/cones ...more
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.
Jun 12, 2010 !Tæmbuŝu marked it as to-read
Shelves: language, science
Reviewed by The Guardian
Linguistics is a natural science. And its discoveries can change our worldview.

Mine changed after I read this book.

I also got the impression that, compared with the most advanced scientific discipline – classical mechanics, linguistics stands today somewhere at the level where mechanics stood in Galileo and Kepler’s time. (Yes, the planets move along these trajectories that strongly resemble ellipses, but what a heck’s driving them that way?!). And as with mechanics of the early 17th century, a
Wesley  Gerrard
This book was a fantastic read. It was quite different to how I initially imagined it to be. As you follow the story is constructively builds a cohesive, rational scientific argument as to exactly how and why different language users perceive the world differently. It is thoroughly thought-provoking and addresses issues that I had never previously pondered about but which are clearly important. There is a clear difference between language speakers across the world, but how does this manifest at ...more
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
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
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
Guy Deutscher examines questions regarding the complicated relationship between culture and language. Does one's language shape their thought process? Does one's cultural values shape the structure of their language? These are, as Deutscher puts it, age old questions, which with the passing of time and generated insight, one can continue asking and attempt to answers. Deutscher centers much of his discussion on the question of color and how different cultures view colors differently. Such a real ...more
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There is more than one author with this name
For the physics professor, please see: Guy Deutscher

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 Language
More about Guy Deutscher...
The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention Syntactic Change in Akkadian: The Evolution of Sentential Complementation

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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” 8 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.” 6 likes
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