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Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

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A New York Times Editor's Choice
An Economist Best Book of 2010
A Financial Times Best Book of 2010
A Library Journal Best Book of 2010

The debate is ages Where does language come from? Is it an artifact of our culture or written in our very DNA? In recent years, the leading linguists have seemingly settled the all languages are fundamentally the same and the particular language we speak does not shape our thinking in any significant way. Guy Deutscher says they're wrong. From Homer to Darwin, from Yale to the Amazon, and through a strange and dazzling history of the color blue, Deutscher argues that our mother tongues do indeed shape our experiences of the world. Audacious, delightful, and provocative, Through the Language Glass is destined to become a classic of intellectual discovery.

320 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Guy Deutscher

8 books245 followers
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 Manchester.

There is more than one author with this name
For the physics professor, please see: Guy Deutscher

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Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
October 21, 2021
Technological Kickback

Language is a form of technology, perhaps the source-technology from which all others are generated (even if academic linguists have difficulty in seeing it as such).* Language may not look like look a technology because it’s largely invisible. It takes time and effort to master but then it’s taken for granted so that it is no longer noticed. But like any technology, it does things for people which couldn’t be done without it. And like all technologies, language does things to the people who use it which they never anticipated. In both senses - as tool and as environment - language is the most powerful technology ever created.

Or more accurately, the most powerful family of technologies because while all languages allow the same things to be achieved, they don’t do that in the same way. Some languages, like Ancient Greek, are extremely precise and complicated in their components (words, or as Deutscher calls them: labels) and how these work together (grammar) to form very precise expressions. Others, like Hebrew, are noticeably lacking in many of these features (like extensive vocabularies and tenses). Yet both can be used, more or less efficiently, to express the same ideas. Concepts seem constant while the labels change. Or do they?

The mechanism of the language machine works on us as well as through us. Eons before the term Artificial Intelligence was coined, language itself took on a life of its own and started influencing the lives of human beings in ways of which we are entirely unaware. Its categories and its logics come to be perceived as natural, as an expression of the way the world really is. Things and labels became conjoined. Linguistic truth becomes confused with reality. Reasonableness, another linguistic trait, becomes a universal standard of human behaviour. Language runs the show. Deutscher calls it culture, which is shorthand for language at work.

Of course it isn’t possible to even discuss the hegemony of language outside of language. So the deck is stacked from the start. But it turns out that there’s a crack in the Great Linguistic Wall. Each language has some distinctively unique effects on the human beings who use it. Differences can be compared in order to ‘out’ the concealed structures that each language imposes. These differences typically hide in plain sight. As Deutscher says, “it turns out that the most significant connections between language, culture, and thought are to be found where they are least expected, in those places where healthy common sense would suggest that all cultures and all languages should be exactly the same.”

Culture likes to masquerade as human nature. Most religions (and more generally, ideologies), for example, claim that their precepts simply reflect the authentic ‘being’ of Homo sapiens and the society that species has created. The discovery that other cultures had different ideas about what constitutes true humanity, typically provokes a sort of fundamentalist response of cultural superiority. And naturally this response is expressed in words, which often contain within themselves the very superiority being argued. What the fundamentalists themselves don’t understand is that they are being used by the language they think they control.

This is an important book, and not just because it is an interesting and entertaining exposition of recent language-research. More importantly, it lifts the veil of language just enough to see its creative mechanism at work. No language provides a neutral, objective description of the world. All languages come with historical (and ideological) baggage which directs attention and prejudices conversation as much as it allows communication and cooperation. It probably takes as much effort to recognise this as it does to learn a language in the first place. The fact is that “language is a cultural convention that doesn’t masquerade as anything but a cultural convention.”

Yes, just like the internet claims to be nothing more than a socially liberating form of communication!

* Deutscher calls it a ‘lens.’ I’m generalising a bit from that; but I think making the metaphor more useful. The title as well as the contents is an oblique homage to the philosopher, Richard Rorty's, 1981 Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. It often does take social sciences, actually science in general, one or two generations to catch up with good philosophy.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,586 followers
January 21, 2015
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 in what they may convey." In other words, languages force their speakers to use certain words in describing concepts, but languages do not constrain their speakers from discussing concepts.

The fact that a language lacks a word that describes some concept, does not mean that its speakers are unaware of that concept. It just means, probably, that the concept is either not too important in that culture, or that it is so all-encompassing that it does not require a special word.

The first half of the book discusses the language mirror--that is, how language mirrors its culture. The second part discusses the language lens--how language shapes the world-view of its speakers.

The book starts out with a description of a big study by the prime minister of England, William Gladstone, of the works of Homer. in one chapter, he shows that the ancient Greeks did not use words that describe most colors. They used words for "black" and "white", and rarely "red" or other colors. He concluded that the ancient Greeks were color-blind, and that over the course of millennia, evolution changed human vision.

Gladstone was originally criticized for his outrageous theory--but in a sense, he was right on the mark. The ancient Greeks did not have words for all the colors, and it was evolution--cultural evolution--that gradually brought more color words into the Greek vocabulary. And it wasn't just the ancient Greeks. Many contemporary languages in remote corners of the globe also have few words for colors.

It used to be thought that the complexity of a language mirrors the complexity of its society. It is virtually impossible to objectively measure the overall complexity of a language. But the complexity of certain aspects of a language are measurable. For example, the morphological complexity of a language (the complexity of individual words) is inversely correlated with the size of population that speaks it. This is rather surprising, and the author can only speculate on the reasons. One amazing example is given, in the language of the Matses, a small tribe on the Amazon. Their verbs are incredibly complex. They have four past-tense forms of verbs that describe how far back in time an action took place. But in addition, verbs must also describe "evidentiality". The verb must describe how the speaker learned of the action. Does the verb express a direct experience (something the speaker saw with his own eyes), or something inferred, something conjectured, or hearsay? Each and every verb must describe all this detail, in a single word!

I found the language lens to be absolutely fascinating. It is very difficult for linguists or psychologists to isolate some aspect of a person's world-view, and to say that it is not only correlated with, but caused by some aspect of his language. But, this has been done definitively in three areas; spatial concepts, gender, and color. For example, in English (and most European languages, I think), there are both ego-centric (up, down, in front, behind, left, right) and geo-centric (North, South, East, West) descriptors. But, some languages only have ego-centric desriptors, while others have only geo-centric words. Ego-centric descriptors are mostly useful in urban areas, such as when you need to give someone directions (go up the elevator to the 5th floor, turn right, pass two doors and take the corridor on the left). In the countryside, geo-centric descriptions might sometimes be more useful (the river running to the south of the lake). The tribes that speak languages that only have geo-centric descriptions learn from a very early age to set up an internal compass. This compass works regardless of visibility conditions; it works in a dense forest, in swamps, sand dunes, and in caves. Only if your transport the speaker of such a language by airplane does he lose his sense of direction. It's hard to imagine, that such a person will never say "the cow to my left" but instead would say "the cow to the north of me".

Occasionally this book seems a bit repetitive. But it is a fine example of scientific digging for subtle answers to important questions.
Profile Image for Salma.
400 reviews1,118 followers
May 8, 2016
يبدو أن العلاقة بين العقل و اللغة لا تنقضي عجائبها... و لا شفاء من مسها... فبعد التساؤل عن أيهما يتحكم بالآخر العقل باللغة أم اللغة بالعقل، الذي استوطنني مذ قراءتي في كتاب فلسفة المتكلمين... قفز سؤال آخر من جنسه لكن أكثر فرادة و اقترابا من إمكانية المعرفة لإمكانية المقارنة و التجريب، هل تتغير طريقة التفكير بتغير اللغة؟ كتاب غاي دويتشر (عبر منظار اللغة؛ لِمَ يبدو العالم مختلفا بلغات أخرى؟) يفتح لنا بابا عريضا جديدا لهذا التساؤل... كتاب لذيذ يجمع بين البحث العلمي و الظرف و الغرابة... تسعة فصول عجيبة تلف بك حول العالم و اللغات و العصور محاولة للبحث عن الجواب... و يضعك أمام أفكار لم تخطر لك قبلا... فالأزرق مثلا لم يكن له اسم في كثير من الثقافات قديما و إنما يندرج مع الأخضر في نفس التسمية، إذ لم يكن هناك حاجة لإفراده باسم! و لغة تحتاج من متكلميها خبرة في قراءة الإحداثيات لأنها تستخدم في أبسط التعبير عن الأماكن الجهات الجغرافية الخارجية الأربعة من شرق و جنوب و شمال و غرب، عوضا عن الموقع الذاتي كاليمين و اليسار و الخلف و الأمام! و لغة قبيلة الماتسيس من الأمازون التي تملك نظاما برهانيا يتطلب من متكلمها أن يكون بارعا في علم المعرفة، حيث عليه الإفصاح عن الكيفية التي توصل بها للحدث الذي يتحدث عنه أهي التجربة المباشرة أم الاستنتاج أم الإشاعة أم الحدس، و كأنها لغة مشتقة من قاعات المحاكم! و أفكار أخرى طريفة...ه
المؤلف دويتشر بدا متواضعا في كتابه، فكان دقيقا في التقليل من القطعيات في أثناء حديثه في معظم فصول الكتاب، فما يجهله علماء اللغة عن أثرها أكثر بكثير مما يعرفونه، و خاصة أنه عرض لنا تاريخا لبعض من النظريات اللسانية المتبجحة تجاه لغات الأقوام "غير البيض"، لم يبق منها بعد عقود من البحث إلا العنصرية الساذجة المثيرة للسخرية... و هذا ما جعله واضعا يده على قلبه كلما ذكر نتيجة، معتذرا في نهاية المطاف للأجيال الآتية بأن هذا المنتهى لدينا في عصرنا...ه
ما تطرق له الكتاب ثلاثة أمثلة في مجالات اللغة: "الإحداثيات المكانية و ما يترتب عليها من أنماط ذاكرة و حس اتجاهات، الجندر النحوي و تأثيره على العلاقات اللغوية، و مفاهيم الألوان التي لها أن تعزز من إحساسنا بفروقات لونية معينة."ص256
فهذا أكثر ما استوثق منه حتى الآن...ه

و أهم نتيجة في الكتاب، أن ما تختلف به اللغات عن بعضها هو في ما يجب أن تنقله من معلومات و ليس فيما تستطيع أن تنقله، بمعنى أن كل اللغات نظريا يمكنها التعبير عن جميع المفاهيم، لكن الاختلاف هو فيما تفرضه على المتحدثين بها حين تعبيرهم عن المعلومات... مثال بسيط، أنه إن أخبرتنا "أهدتني صديقتي هدية"، ففي الانكليزية لست مطالبا بالافصاح عن جنس هذا الصديق في الجملة، لكن العربية تلجئك لهذا... فإذن العربية تفرض على متحدثها نوع معلومات زائد في هذه المثال ليخبر به... أو مثل تلك اللغة الأمازونية التي تفرض على متحدثها أن يخبر عن كيفية حصوله على الخبر كلما أراد التحدث عن خبر ما... أو تلك الأخرى التي تفرض على متحدثها أن يعرف إحداثياته... لكن هذا لا يعني أن اللغات الأخرى قاصرة عن التعبير عن هذه الأمور، و لكنها فقط لا تطالبك بهذا في الخطاب العادي... و لذلك لست مضطرا مثلا لإرهاق دماغك في التفكير أين ركنت سيارتك نحو الجنوب أو الغرب إن لم تكن ناطقا بلغة "الغوغو يمثير"، و لكنك إن كنت ناطقا بهذه اللغة، فلن يرهق دماغك أصلا، لأنك اعتدت على هذا منذ الصغر... كما أنك قادر على التعبير عن الاتجاهات بالعربية فالأمر متاح و لكنه ليس مستلزما كالغوغو يمثير...ه
"إن كان تأثير اللغات المختلفة في فكر متحدثيها متعدد الأشكال، فليس ذلك بسبب ما تتيحه كل لغة لمتحدثيها من فكر، بل بسبب أنواع المعلومات التي تفرض كل لغة على متحدثيها التفكير بها. عندما تفرض لغة ما على متحدثيها الاهتمام بأوجه معينة من العالم كلما نطقوا بها أو استمعوا إليها، ستستقر عادات الحديث و الاستماع تلك لتصبح عادات عقلية تؤثر في الذاكرة و الإدراك أو الترابط الذهني أو حتى المهارات العملية" ص173

الكتاب جعل الكثير من الأفكار تنبثق في ذهني: ه

مدى روعة الخلق في تعدد اللغات {و من آياته اختلاف ألسنتكم و ألوانكم إن في ذلك لآيات للعالمين}، و استشعرت مثل المؤلف بالأسف من حقيقة أن كثيرا من اللغات اختفت أو مهددة بالاختفاء... لأن هذا يفقد العالم جوانب أخرى للتأمل تساعد على النظر في زوايا لم تخطر من قبل حين المقارنات، و بالتالي سينعكس هذا على فهمنا للغتنا الخاصة و وظيفة اللغة بشكل عام، إذ سيقل انكشافها في بعض جوانبها التي نحتاج فيها للمقارنة مع المختلف حتى ندركها... ه
بما أن الفروقات بين اللغات لا تصل إلى التفكير المنطقي، فكل الناس جوهريا تفكر بنفس الطريقة، فخطر لي أنه نظريا إذن يمكن لكل لغة القدرة على استنتاج قواعد المنطق من بنيتها الخاصة، من دون الحاجة لاستيراد عبارات ركيكة لغويا للتعبير عنه... أليس كذلك؟... لكن حسب المؤلف ما فكرت بهذه الفكرة إلا لأننا ترعرعنا في ثقافة تربط التفكير بالضرورة مع المنطق و تعظم التحليل الفلسفي و تقلل من شأن العمليات العقلية الأخرى، و لذلك هذا الذي خطر لي حين التفكير باللغة "بيد أن هذا الرأي لا يتوافق مع الدور المتواضع الذي يحتله التفكير المنطقي في تجاربنا الواقعية [...] يظهر تأثير اللغة الأم الذي جرى إثباته عمليا في مجالات الفكر مثل الذاكرة و الإدراك و ترابط الأفكار، أو في المهارات العملية مثل حس الاتجاهات. و في تجارب حياتنا الواقعية لا تقل أهمية تلك الأوجه من القدرة على التفكير التجريدي، بل قد تزيد أهميتها" ص257
إذن الثقافة و اللغة هي ما ترتب أولويات الأفكار أيضا... ه
و هذا يقودني لفكرة أخرى أنه طالما كل اللغات لها نفس القدرة على التعبير عن كل المفاهيم نظريا، فهذا يعني أنه حين يقصر التعبير في لغة ما فالمشكلة في الناطقين بها... فاللغة مؤثرة و متأثرة... فبدل العمل على إثرائها من خلال النقاش و الاشتقاق يُعمد للتعبير عبر لغة ثانية، و هذا من شأنه أن يقتلها شيئا فشيئا... لذلك فإن الحديث عن ضعف العربية و تخلفها و جمودها لذاتها، هو حديث عاطفي نفسي و ليس كلاما مبنيا على حقيقة لغوية، و هو يشابه النظريات اللسانية الاستعمارية المندثرة التي كانت في القرن التاسع عشر... إن بنية اللغة العربية قادرة على التعبير عن أي مفهوم، لكن المشكلة في موقع الناطقين بها من هذا العالم، و عدم امتلاكهم السلطة المعرفية للتعبير و التسمية... و من يملك السلطة و القوة هو من يعبر و يفرض تعابيره... اللغة ليست فقط مؤثرة في الناطقين بها بل أيضا متأثرة بهم... و هم الذين يئدوها أو يحيوها... لذلك تجد أن اللغة العربية كانت مزدهرة و غنية بالمفاهيم المجردة و إطلاق الاصطلاحات حين كانت الحضارة مزدهرة... و خفتت بخفوت ناطقيها... و إنما تتمايز اللغات أيضا بمدى خدمة أبنائها لها و تدوينها و تنوع الناطقين بها... فمثلا اللغات الشفوية تبدو أضعف و أكثر عرضة للاندثار من تلك المدونة لجريان النسيان على ما لم يستخدم منها من دون قرطاس يحفظها... كما أن اللغات التي ينطق بها أفراد قلة في قبيلة ما أقل ثراء من تلك التي ينطق بها الملايين، و ذلك لأن الكثرة تثري بينما القلة تعمد للاختزال...ه

إن الله إنما أنزل القرآن بالعربية... و أكد على هذا بقوله {وهذا لسان عربي مبين} و الإبانة هي الإفصاح... فالله قد أراد لهذه اللغة بالذات أن تعبر عن كلامه و وسمها بالإفصاح... و أراد لمن اختار فهم هذا القرآن و دينه أن يتعلم العربية، و بالتالي يكسب بعض الاصطلاحات و المفاهيم بالعربية كما أنزلت في القرآن... و لكن حتى نعرف ما هي المزايا في العربية التي تفترق بها عن غيرها في ما تبينه أي تفصح عنه، و ما هي زوايا النظر التي تتطلب من ناطقيها العناية بها زيادة مقارنة مع غيرها، فلا بد من دراسات تجريبية مقارنة بين العربية و اللغات الأخرى... و هذا فرع معرفي مهم لتبحث فيه الأجيال العربية الآتية، إن خرجنا من هذه المرحلة المفصلية من التاريخ أحياء محيين كما أسأل الله، و لم نفن نحن العرب جميعا مع لغتنا، كما يُـكاد لنا...ه

إنما هو كتاب لذيذ و عجيب، أنصح به كل محب للغة... و أشتهي لو أقرأ كتبا أخرى حول نفس الموضوع...ه

17 شباط
Profile Image for Jade.
147 reviews10 followers
September 7, 2015
I suppose I hold linguists to a higher standard than civilians regarding their word choice and articulation of ideas. After all, if there's one category of people who should know about the power of words, it's this one. Which is why I'm so disappointed by this book.

The book is called Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. When you're done with it, you would expect to know why, according to the author, the world... looks different... in other languages. And while one or two chapters towards the end of the book attempt to tackle this question, they only offer evidence relating to a few areas, namely colour, gender and geographical orientation. Things that aren't exactly secrets, that most people who have heard about languages will already know vary from one to another.

The bulk of the book is mainly concerned in history and anecdotes. The history of the study of colour perception takes up most of the first half of the book. While interesting in itself, it has little to do with language and with the purported thesis of the book. Reading digression after digression gets infuriating. I'm tempted to say this book needs an editor, but if it was properly edited, it would be reduced by eighty percent, so...

Of course most people must have enjoyed Deutscher's rambles. The reason I didn't, apart from the fact that, well, he doesn't stick to his thesis, is that I hated his narrative voice. To me, the idea that you can write a book about languages, including endangered aboriginal languages, without once using the words "racism," "colonialism" or "imperialism" -- or mentioning these ideas -- is simply outlandish. See for instance page 193: "Together with Guugu Yimithirr, hundreds of other 'tropical languages' are going to the wall, dispersed by the onward march of civilisation." I'd call what's happening to aboriginal languages in Australia a lot of things, but "dispersed by the onward march of civilisation" isn't one of them.

Deutscher's unwillingness to address the reason why most linguists nowadays are adamant that all languages are equally complex does him a disservice too. No one is pretending that all languages have clause subordination. No one is pretending that language complexity is measurable at all. What people are saying is that all languages allow people to express the same complex ideas -- a kind of refutation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, if you will. Which is Deutscher's thesis, too, so why not come out and say that Sapir-Whorf relies on racism and imperialism, and that the idea that all languages are equally complex is an attempt to push back against that?

But then again, the fact that Deutscher chooses to use such words as "savage" and "primitive" to describe certain societies or languages kind of provides the answer to that. He is a linguist. He knows that words are not contained by their etymologies, and he knows how those words have been used, and in whose mouths. Yet not only does he use them, he never justifies his use of them.

All in all, the best bits in this book are the ones about the study of colour perception. I wish Deutscher had written a book about that instead. The bits that are actually about what the book says it's about aren't that juicy, and if you're interested in languages you've probably heard about them already. (Many languages have genders! It doesn't mean that French speakers think knives are men and forks are women!) This book could also have benefited from a rudimentary knowledge of translation studies. It's one thing to speak several languages, but another completely to be able to translate to and from them -- otherwise all bilinguals would be translators. Authors such as Meschonnic or Berman have already thought, a lot, about most of the implicit questions in this book. It's a shame that while most translators and translation theorists know quite a lot about linguistics, most linguists know virtually nothing about translation theory.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
January 2, 2023
I added this book to my shelves on 14 April 2020 and began to read it same day, it is on an Export file. It and the review has since disappeared from my shelves? How could this happen? How many times has this happened, or the book has turned up as a Kindle or audio when i added the hardback? How many times do I find that the review has disappeared or the whole review has been hidden from everyone except my friends? Bugs? Bad librarianship combining and deleting? Censorship by any other name by Goodreads Support? I have no idea.

But I'm pissed off because I read a good review of this book today and pointed them towards The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language which I thinks makes a better case, and then I find this book has disappeared... What an effing joke.
Profile Image for David.
865 reviews1,342 followers
October 3, 2010
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 humor, and the way the language I'm speaking affects my sense of humor. So I've always been interested in the extent to which language affects thought. The notion that it does is what linguists refer to as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Belief in Sapir-Whorf reached its peak in the first half of the 20th century, but since then the notion that language affects cognition has been discredited by almost all mainstream linguists.

In "Through the Language Glass" Guy Deutscher mounts a careful, very limited defence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. He considers three major areas - the link between language and color perception, how different languages deal with spatial orientation, and the phenomenon of differences in noun genders across different languages. His examination of the link between language and color perception is extensive and thought-provoking - he traces the development of linguistic theory on color perception from British prime minister Gladstone's commentary on the relative paucity of color terms in Homer's work, through the Berlin-Kay model (stating essentially that languages all tend to split up the color spectrum in similar ways) through very recent experiments suggesting that the existence of a particular color distinction in a language (e.g. the existence of separate terms in Russian for light and dark blue) affects the brain's ability to perceive that distinction. Deutscher's account of the evolution of linguistic theory about color perception is a tour de force of scientific writing for a general audience - it is both crystal clear and a pleasure to read.

Two factors contributed to my eventual disappointment with this book. The first is that, even after Deutscher's careful, eloquent, persuasive analysis, one's final reaction has to be a regretful "So what?" In the end, it all seems to amount to little of practical importance.

The second disappointment pertained only to the experience of reading this book on an Amazon Kindle. Reference is made throughout to a "color insert" which evidently contained several color wheels as well as up to a dozen color illustrations. This feature was completely absent from the Kindle edition, which had a severe adverse effect on the overall experience of reading this book. Obviously, this point is relevant only if you are contemplating reading the Kindle version - DON'T!
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,178 reviews532 followers
September 7, 2015

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.


This book must be read in context of the global languages. There are more than seven thousand languages spoken in the world, of which one hundred and six languages have been committed to writing, and only seventy-eight have a literature of their own. Standard written English has at least one and a half million words, with past and present meanings of the words known because they have been recorded in writing, the average oral dialect, especially in African countries, has only a few thousand words with no means of knowing possible previous meanings of those words.

The different cultural needs of these three thousand plus languages can explain why some have many words for one object, and others simply do not have a need for a thesaurus of possibilities which can explain the intention or meaning.

However, in the 1800s it was this phenomenon that baffled the intellectuals. What people see, and what they report, is two very different things. Add evolution to it, and the scientists had their research cut out for them. All research, whether it was through philology or anthropology, was based on western civilization as the control/reference group - or yardstick, if you will. In today's world, this notion has largely been modified to allow scientists a more open-minded and respectful approach to the world and its people. Thank goodness for that!

This book starts out with a highly interesting chapter on color in the context of language. I got so excited, I wanted to quote the entire chapter in the review! Of course I saved you this ordeal !
“There are four tongues worthy of the world’s use,” says the Talmud: “Greek for song, Latin for war, Syriac for lamentation, and Hebrew for ordinary speech.” Other authorities have been no less decided in their judgment on what different languages are good for. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, king of Spain, archduke of Austria, and master of several European tongues, professed to speaking “Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

"European languages pinched their verbal philosophical tool kit from Latin, which in turn lifted it wholesale from Greek.
The debate around color was set off by Right Honorable William Ewart Gladstone who published his Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age in London, March, 1858. Seventeen hundred pages covering three volumes, with a range of topics, from the geography of the Odyssey to Homer's sense of beauty; from the position of women in Homeric society, to the moral character of Helen. Tucked away in the last volume was the curious and seemingly marginal theme of "Homer's perception and use of color."

Gladstone's theories and studies, as discussed in this book, had me curious enough to get my copy of Homer out and add it to the re-read list. This time around it will get a lot more attention than thirty years ago in school, that's for sure.

" Gladstone's conundrum will launch a thousand ships of learning, have a profound effect on the development of at least three academic disciplines, and trigger a war over the control of language between nature and culture that after 150 years shows not sign of abating."

Gladstone got the intellectuals shocked, stupefied and then rallying when he finally declared that ancient populations were colorblind! That was his conclusion after meticulously discussing the absence of color, or limited knowledge there of, in Homer's poems.

You can either read the book yourself, or indulge in this spoiler to convince you to read it, in case you hesitate! The debate set off numerous scientific research project all over the world to determine why color did not have a presence in ancient literature, including the Bible.

I found this book entertaining and highly informative, with an academic flair to it. The research is impressive.

So many languages are disappearing from the world's radar, due to lack of development. Languages can only develop when a need for new words arises. Academic/ intellectual, development is mostly the starting point for new words and terminology to service a language in a local community, especially when westernization of local cultures is concerned. An ignorance of ancient old traditions within non-western societies lead to an attitude of superiority over these misunderstood, and highly developed cultures. The printed word also inspires the development of a language.

The author, Guy Deutscher, touches lightly on these issues, but provide a wealth of information in understanding these differences and how far we have come in understanding each other's worlds of words. He discusses how our mother tongue can affect how we think and how we perceive our world. He does not indulge in 'groundless twaddle' of any kind.

So by the way, Latin is not only the basis of many European languages. It is also, surprisingly, the secret ingredient in many African languages. A less-known wonder of my continent. You only discover it when you read books about the history of languages, although this one did not mention it.

I loved this book. It has enriched my world considerably. Confession: in my own language I have no problem expressing myself exactly how I want, of course, but in another language, I become a 'clueless primitive', battling a thesaurus of possibilities.

So be it.

This book is obviously recommended to the philologist-buffs among us! But for language lovers, without the academic itch, like me, it is a pleasure to read as well. The author was true to his promise indeed!

Profile Image for Jan Rice.
533 reviews460 followers
May 23, 2014

--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, but the patterns turned out to be too consistent for that. He was on to something. But what? Were the ancients color-blind? Working just before the Darwinian revolution, Gladstone thought--everyone did--that acquired traits were handed down. As in, the giraffe stretches its neck reaching for the choicest foliage, ergo its children have longer necks. Gladstone thought that only over the last millennium had our literal eye for color developed to its lofty modern level.

It seems ancient texts from other cultures likewise vary from the colors we see. The next improbable thinker was philologist Lazarus Geiger, an Orthodox Jew whose 1867 presentation to the Assembly of German Naturalists and Physicians focused on blue and yellow as universally late-developing color concepts and on red as the first (after black and white). He was also the first to discriminate between what we say and what we see. But influenced by the new Darwinian science, he thought anatomical evolution of the eye accounted for the facts. Although clues to the contrary were cropping up, this savant died mid-career so wasn't around to pursue them.

With emerging anthropological studies, it was only natural for Western European man (that yardstick by which all humanity is to be judged, right?) to be deemed the pinnacle of evolution, while newly discovered and studied "primitive races" had yet to reach our level. Ah, evolution, and, oh, the race science of the late 19th and early 20th century!

With the crashing and burning of the biological approach and the triumph of culture, such interpretations fell from grace. Anything that smacked of the notion that "savages" were inferior to "civilized people" was viewed with distaste and, in fact, forgotten. For example, "(i)n America, it was now being explicitly proclaimed as a tenet of anthropological science that culture was the only admissible factor in explaining mental differences between ethnic groups" (p. 81). So, regarding color, the powers-that-were said that how a culture "chose" to speak of color was entirely arbitrary.

But what about the discoveries of a universal order in the emergence of color names? Along came a 1969 rediscovery of what had been forgotten. Once again the pendulum swings and upsets the applecart.

When the dust has settled it seems that cultures do have freedom in naming divisions of the color spectrum--within constraints. The anatomy of the eye isn't the issue, but rather the importance of color to us, which accompanies our ability to separate colors from their objects, and that accelerates when we start to use dyes and paints. We find names for what we find it important to talk about. First comes red, the color of blood, and always the first color named. Next, green and yellow--what's fresh? And what's ripe? Blue comes last.

Biology vs. culture.

It always seems that the way we do things is only right and "natural." Only by widening our horizons can we glimpse that our habits are just that--habits, not nature; one way but not universal. Color is the first ground the author tills to make us see that. At the end of the book he has included an appendix on color vision. Did you know that only primates developed trichromatic vision?

"(W)ith only a little exaggeration, one could say our trichromatic color vision is a device invented by certain fruiting trees in order to propagate themselves." In particular, it seems that our trichromatic color vision evolved together with a certain class of tropical trees that bear fruit too large to be taken by birds and that are yellow or orange when ripe. The tree offers a color signal that is visible to the monkey against the masking foliage of the forests, and in return the monkey either spits out the undamaged seed at a distance or defecates it together with fertilizer. In short, monkeys are to colored fruit what bees are to flowers. (p. 247)

That'll put us in our place!

The author's overall thesis is that language does affect how we see the world. In the bad old days of perceived Western European biological superiority, it was commonly believed that various languages--usually the observer's own--permitted the most sublime expression, where as more limited (read, primitive) languages--those of others--constrained what could be said and, worse, what could be thought. Subsequently it became clear that whatever the idiosyncrasies of particular languages, people could understand and could express various concepts. So, again, it fell out of favor to think that languages affect how their speakers experience the world. The prevalent view these days is that there is no such cultural effect, i.e., no such differences between cultures. The author mines two other areas in addition to color to show that our native tongue does "color" our view of the world: directionality and gender.

Although we know the cardinal directions and can give directions in those terms, we think it only natural that we usually speak with ourselves as the reference point, as when we say "left" and "right," or "in front of" or "behind" me. Well, languages have been discovered in which people don't do that; they think entirely in terms of "east," "west," "north," and "south." Although that seems "unnatural," even impossible to us, they do it with ease. In fact, by practicing it as they learn to speak, they "install" that way of thinking just as readily as we do our way of thinking of directionality. In Daniel Kahneman's terms, it becomes part of their "fast" (intuitive) thinking that they do "naturally" without even having to think about it.

In the above Family Circus comic from May 21, 2014, the little girl has caught on to using herself as a reference point but apparently not to our culture's excluding of the cardinal directions.

The other linguistic area into which the author delves is gender. Some languages make us express whether things are "feminine" or "masculine." But gender originally meant "type" and not "sex." There are languages in which "gender" depends on animacy (animate vs. inanimate) instead of sex, and there are languages that have more than two genders, for example humans, size, collectives, liquids, etc.!

The upshot of how languages affect our experience is contained in the following:

SINCE THERE IS NO EVIDENCE that any language forbids its speakers to think anything, we must look in an entirely different direction to discover how our mother tongue really does shape our experience of the world. Some 50 years ago, the renowned linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out a crucial fact about differences between languages in a pithy maxim: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” This maxim offers us the key to unlocking the real force of the mother tongue: if different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.

The above quotation comes from the author's 2010 article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Ever since I read that article, I've wanted to read this book. Then, some time ago, I spotted the hardback remaindered in Daedalus, and now I'm happy that I have read it!

This author, like the psychologist Daniel Kahneman with whose work I'm enamoured, offers us a chance to get outside our own heads. That's just about the most fantastic thing we can do. I have now (applause, please) had a half-hour (don't laugh) introduction to Kant's thinking. I have a glimmer that Kant was speaking of the a priori structures of our thought, which we cannot get out of and which govern all that we experience. Today's cognitive scientists, analogously, point to what our thinking is evolutionarily programmed with and what gets programmed in so deeply through overlearning and habit that it may as well be innate. And yet, and yet--sometimes we can get a glimpse over the walls, into what another person sees and thinks!

This author, Guy Deutscher, is somewhat self-deprecating. He is overly modest about what we can learn from psychological experimentation, believing that only when we can watch as our brains work will we really "know." He sometimes does not express the full import of what it means to see. Consequently his conclusions can seem underwhelming, as per this Guardian article:

Of these three examples, only the first felt significant. The ability to know which way is north at all times, even in the dark, is an extraordinary skill that has useful applications. The other two examples showed, if anything, that language barely has an effect on perception since the experiments seemed overly contrived and the results slight.

What has happened that the book's significance doesn't come through as it should? Perhaps the meandering of the narrative throws the reader off the track--if the reader doesn't realize the author is like a detective pursuing his leads historically. But I think the main culprit is that the author downplays his findings. Look at all the past figures he enumerates who drew erroneous conclusions! Deutscher especially doesn't want to be like the mid-20th century linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf whose name is mud today. He made a lot of radical and since-disproved claims about what limitations various languages impose on their speakers. So Deutscher says that each alleged impact of language must be individually demonstrated. He discounts the role of inference, and yet I think that in science deduction and induction work together.

Deutscher, being overly hesitant about the implications of his findings, would never have used the picture I have added at the first of this review. He would never say, as Daniel Kahneman does in Thinking, Fast and Slow (about the impact of various subliminal experiences on behavior):

The idea you should focus on, however, is that disbelief is not an option. The results are not made up, nor are they statistical flukes. You have no choice but to accept that the major conclusion of these studies are true. More important, you must accept that they are true about you.... You do not believe that these results apply to you because they correspond to nothing in your subjective experience. But your subjective experience consists largely of the story that your System 2 tells itself about what is going on. Priming phenomena arise in System 1, and you have no conscious access to them.

Ah, well. Deutscher is being modest and observing scientific caution, for which the casual reader may not be prepared, and I think maybe he is underestimating what can be learned from psychological as opposed to neuroanatomical findings. I tend to see his results, though, in the light of many other cognitive findings about the impact of our "programming," so I'm prepared to be more impressed.

One other point: Deutscher's big point is that culture, via language, is impacting us--culture, as opposed to nature. I'm not quite sure the distinction between nature and nurture is as clear as he makes it. Some evolutionary scientists think nowadays that biological evolution and culture interact. It used to be believed we humans haven't biologically evolved in 50,000 years. But many scientists today think evolution is still going on. Some change is mediated through culture, and then some individuals are better able to adapt to that cultural change and get their genes into the next generation. For example, the ability to benefit from dairy products. Culturally, some northern Europeans found dairy products to be a major food source in areas where the climate limited other food sources. So those who had a mutation that allowed them to digest it survived and out-bred the lactose intolerant. That's my rather simplistic rendition of how nature could interact with nurture, an example Jonathan Haidt uses in The Righteous Mind.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
617 reviews768 followers
September 28, 2011
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 evidentiality (haha). But on the other hand his writing style is playful, lucid, engaging and irresistibly amusing. Yes, it's true, there is such a thing as an entertaining linguist.

Deutscher takes up the slightly disreputable idea that language may have some influence on our thought patterns. This is the baby that was thrown out with the bathwater when Benjamin Lee Whorf's notion that language determines our picture of reality was rejected as fanciful. Whorf made some rather presumptuous assumptions, claiming that language constrained our minds and prevented us from being able to understand certain concepts. If a language has no future tense, for example, then its speakers would not have any grasp of the notion of future time. Laughable really, but it was a theory that had currency for years. Once that theory had crashed, it became unfashionable to even think about the possibility that thought patterns might be influenced by language, but Deutscher examines how different languages force their speakers to pay attention to certain aspects of reality. One of the most impressive examples is the Australian Aboriginal language Guugu Yimithirr, from north Queensland. Guugu Yimithirr does not use words like “left” or “right,” “in front of” or “behind,” to describe the position of objects. Whenever we would use the egocentric system, the Guugu Yimithirr rely on cardinal directions. If they want you to move over on the car seat to make room, they’ll say “move a bit to the east.” To tell you where exactly they left something in your house, they’ll say, “I left it on the southern edge of the western table.” Or they would warn you to “look out for that big ant just north of your foot.” Even when shown a film on television, they gave descriptions of it based on the orientation of the screen. If the television was facing north, and a man on the screen was approaching, they said that he was “coming northward.” As one might expect, this necessity of specifying geographic directions all of the time means that the speakers of this language (and there are others in the world that are similar) have to develop an unfailing sense of orientation. Which of course they do, being able to 'feel' where north and south, east and west are in the same way as we feel where behind is. Actually, it saves the trouble you get with rotation when you use the egocentric right and left - no more would you need to ask "your left or mine?" East is east.

Deutscher is cautious about leaping to any other conclusion than saying that language can develop a certain habit of mind, and speculating that there may be correlated influences on such things as memory or learning. But further than that he will not go, as the evidence is just not available yet, despite some fantastically ingenious testing methods to explore cognitive faculties. I do find that ingenuity amazing, but Deutscher points out in his epilogue that the ingenuity required is a sign of weakness: it is needed because we know so little about how the brain works. "Were we not profoundly ignorant, we would not need to rely on roundabout methods of gleaning information from measures such as reaction speed to various contrived tasks." True enough, I suppose. But I'm impressed none the less.
Profile Image for Hesham Khaled.
125 reviews123 followers
October 14, 2016
فإن تكرمتم"
يا أيها القراء اللاحقون بنا أن تنظروا للأسفل باتجاهنا من قمة شموخكم،
فتذكروا أنكم قد وصلتم إلى تلك القمة بالتسلق على ظهور مجهوداتنا"

هكذا ينهي دويتشر كتابه العظيم جدًا بكل تواضع،
كتبت ملاحظات تلخص ما أورده دويتشر في بعض النقاط
التي أراها مهمة وسأنقلها هنا وعذرًا على العامية

لو اللغة مرآة للعقل هل هتُظهر لنا ثقافة المتكلم أم الطبيعة؟ يعني مين بيشكل اللغة؟ الثقافة ولا الطبيعة؟

من البديهي أن لغة كل واحد مرتبطة بثقافته بحيث أنه لو اتولد في مكان تاني كان هيتكلم لغة تانية، ولكن الطبيعة بترسم حدود للغة، مثلا لو لقينا لفظ واحد في أي لغة بيعبر عن (الطيور البيضاء ومعاها كل القطط) = أظن إننا هنوصف اللغة دي بالجنون وإن التقسيم ده غير منطقي عشان يجمع الطيور والقطط في لفظ واحد، فالطبيعة هنا هي المسؤولة عن التقسيم ده، وعدم السماح بجمع أشياء عشوائية تحت مسمى واحد خصوصًا في الأشياء المادية الملموسة.
في المعاني التجريدية زي العقل والروح، هنلاقي إن كل مجتمع بيتوسع في المفهوم المرتبط بيه أكتر وبيضع له أسماء ملهاش مرادفات في لغة تانية . . برتراند راسل في مقال له كتبه في اختبارات المنحة التأهيلية للجامعة، بيناقش في مقولة امرسون: "نستطيع الاستدلال على روح الشعب من خلال النظر في لغته" . . فبيقول راسل: إنه قد يمكننا ذلك فمثلا كلمة روح في الفرنسية
معبّرة عن معاني مش موجودة في الإنجليزية وبذلك نصل لاستنتاج (قد تؤيده الملاحظة) إن الشعب الفرنسي لديه روحانية أكبر من الإنجليزي.
نفس الفكرة لو جربنا نستخدم معجم ثنائي لاستخراج لفظ معادل لكلمة . .
من الفرنسية
هنلاقي ألفاظ كتير بتحاول تقترب من المعاني المجمّعة في كلمة عقل الإنجليزية.

ممكن الطبيعة تتنازل للثقافة في تشكيل اللغة حتى في الأشياء المادية المحسوسة اللي المفروض الطبيعة هي اللي بترسم حدودها، على الرغم من إن أسماء الإشارة مرتبطة بالطبيعة والحس مباشرة، إلا إن ممكن الثقافة تتحكم فيها!

الناطقين بالتغلوغية في الفلبين بيستخدموا 3 ألفاظ للتعبير عن نحن ـ we
لفظ لـ أنا وأنت فقط . . ولفظ لـ أنا وأنت وشخص آخر . . ولفظ لـ أنا وشخص آخر غيرك، وممكن يضحكوا علينا لو عرفوا إن فيه ناس بتستخدم لفظ واحد للمفاهيم التلاتة.
في اللغة العبرية مثلا هناك لفظة واحدة للتعبير عن اليد والذراع، على خلاف العربية والإنجليزية، وده بيسبب مشكلة لمتكلم العبرية لما يجيي يتعلم لغة بتفرق بين الاتنين، وفي اللغات المختلفة تقسيم الأعضاء ودمجها خاضع للثقافة اللي بتحدد مسميات للمفاهيم حسب رؤيتها.

في اللغة الإسبانية كلمة "جسر" مذكر، بتوحي بسمات رجولية مثل القوة والمتانة، بينما في الألمانية كلمة جسر مؤنثة فأهلها بيشوفوا الجسر جميل ونحيل، الإنجليزية بتعاني في تجنيس الحيوانات والجماد والنبات . . تنازل الطبيعة للثقافة في تشكيل اللغة المعبرة عن مفاهيم حسيّة بيسبب مشاكل كتير وخصوصا في الترجمة!


هي الناس دي بتشوف الألوان زينا ولا لأ؟!

في النص التاني من القرن الـ 19 كانت في خناقة فكرية وليلة كبيرة عن رؤية الأقوام السابقيين للألوان! . . ظهر اعتقاد كبير إن في الأزمنة الغابرة الناس مكنتش بتشوف الألوان زي ما احنا شايفينها دلوقتي!!
الموضوع بدأ مع -الراجل البرنس جدا- غلادستون ومجلداته الثلاثة "دراسة في هوميروس والعهد الهوميروسي" . . غلادستون نشر في دراسته فصل صغير كده خاص بـ فهم هوميروس للألوان واستخدامه لها، وكشف عن معضلة تسببت في فتح مجال بحثي واسع جدا . .

غلادستون بشجاعة يحسد عليها قال إن الإغريق كان عندهم مشكلة في رؤية الألوان ولخص حججه في خمسة نقاط :

- هوميروس كان بيستخدم نفس الكلمة ليوصف ألوان احنا بنعتبرها النهاردة مختلفة، فمثلا البحر مظلم كالنبيذ وكذلك الثيران تشبه النبيذ ، وبيوصف نفس الشيء بوصفين مختلفين، فبيستخدم اسم زهرة البنفسج ioeis لوصف لون البحر أيضا -البحر البنفسجي، البحر الأرجواني- وفي نفس الوقت الأغنام في الكهف م��طاة بصوف بنفسجي!
- كلمة كلوروس في مراحل الإغريقية المقدمة تعني الأخضر، استخدمها هوميروس لوصف العسل . . العسل الأخضر! واستخدمها لوصف الوجوه الشاحبة من الخوف وغيره.
- كمان استعمال هوميروس للألوان ضعيف جدا أو غير موجود، على الرغم من حبه للحصان واستخدامه له في شعره باستمرار إلا إنه نادرًا ما يذكر لونه في كل أوصافه، والسماء مليئة بالنجوم وكل حاجة حلوة إلا إنها مش زرقاء.
- اللونين الأبيض والأسود هما المسيطرين على شعره بصورة مبالغ فيها . . أوصاف هوميروس لكل شيء زاهية جدا ومعبرة إلا في موضوع الألوان.

كلام غلادستون وضع النقاد في موقف صعب، وحاولوا يخرجوا ب��بريرات للخلل في الألوان اللي اظهره غلادستون ولكنهم فشلوا، خصوصًا إن الأمثلة كتير يصعب تأويلها كلها . . وقدم غلادستون تبريره بازدياد حساسيتنا للألوان وإن العضو تم تدريبه فأصبح بقدرة أكبر وتم توريثها للأجيال التالية!

في 1867 لازاروس غايغر ألقى محاضرة عن "إدراك الألوان لدى العصور البدائية وتطوره"، كلام غلادستون استفز غايغر إنه يبحث في النصوص القديمة لدى الشعوب المختلفة . . في الشعر الهندي القديم فيدا آلاف السطور بتوصف السماء وبتترنم بجمالها إلا إننا مش هنعرف إن السماء زرقاء!، التوراة العبرية بجلالة قدرها خالية من كلمة "أزرق" . . يذكر الإنجيل حصانًا أحمر، ويخبر الرسول أرميا بأن الوجوه أصبحت خضراء. هناك حمامة ريشها بلون الذهب الأخضر!

بشوية استنتاجات من النصوص القديمة وأصول الكلمات يبني غايغر تسلسلا زمنيا لنشأة الإحساس بالألوان لدى الشعوب القديمة؛ فالأحمر ثم الأصفر والأخضر وفي الأخير الأزرق والبنفسجي! . . والأغرب إن تسلسل التطور متشابه في عدة ثقافات قديمة.

طرح غايغر السؤال الأهم في الموضوع وهو ما سيستمر صداه لعقود قادمة عن ما تراه العين وما تستطيع اللغة أن تعبر عنه؟

في 1875 حدث تصادم بالسويد لقطارين تسبب في الأهتمام بموضوع رؤية الألوان، افترض الطبيب هولمغون إن السبب في التصادم إن السائق شاف الإشارة الحمراء باللون الأبيض لأنه مصاب بعمى الألوان، وعملوا حملة لاختبار عمال السكة الحديد في رؤيتهم للألوان، والنتيجة بين 266 واحد عملوا لهم الاختبار طلع 13 واحد مصاب بعمى الألوان بينهم سائق ومدير محطة.
طبيب عيون اسمه ماغنس كان له الفضل في انتشار الأبحاث عن رؤية الشعوب القديمة للألوان وأنهم يروا الألوان باهتة وليس كما نراها الآن والتفسير المقدم هو التفسير التطوري اللي قدمه غلادستون بتدريب العضو وتوارث القدرات الجديدة وقدم نظرية بترتيب رؤية الألوان وإن رؤيتها لم تتطور إلا في الألفية الأخير ولاقت قبول كبير في وقتها لم يتوفر لغلادستون.
مكنش فيه حاجة تفسر رؤية الشعوب القديمة للألوان بالصور�� السابقة إلا ما طرحه ماغنس على الرغم من إن الفكرة كانت بتواجه مشاكل وداروين أقر بإن التحليل ده فيه مشاكل.
الاعتقاد بتوارث السمات المكتسبة كان سائد عالميًا حتى تمانينات القرن 19 . . لحد ما الأحيائي الألماني وايزمان عمل تجربته الشهيرة بقطع ذيول 800 فأر لـ 18 جيل ولم يولد أي جيل بذيول مبتورة.
الحل كان في التوجه لتأثير الثقافة على اللغة، هل ممكن الشعوب القديمة تكون قدرت تميز بين الألوان ولكن فشلوا في التعبير عنها بلغتهم؟!

هل الخلل في اللغات نفسها؟

في وقتنا الراهن بيتقال نبيذ أبيض رغم إن لونه أخضر مصفر، والسناجب الحمراء هي بنية في الحقيقة والإيطاليين بيقولوا على صفار البيض (أحمر) . . بس شوية كلمات عشوائية مش زي الخلل الدائم في النصوص القديمة!
يبقى مفيش غير الشعوب البدائية هي اللي هتحل المشكلة . . في 1878 حديقة الحيوان بإحدى ضواحي برلين استقبلت 62 ألف شخص وعلماء أنثروبولوجيا وعلم الأعراق وغيرهم عشان يتفرجوا على 30 شخص من الأطفال والنساء والرجال النوبيين من السودان، وتم إخضاعهم لاختبار الألوان، قبل هذا الحدث بفترة نشر باستيان مقال بيفيد بإن هناك شعوب مازالت لا تفرق بين الأزرق والأخضر، وأول بحث فعلي على شعوب بدائية كان من قبل إرنست ألمكويست عن سكان جزيرة تشوكشي بشرق سيبريا . . وطُلب من ضباط الجيش بعمل استبيانات على القبائل الهندية . . والمبشرين في المناطق النائية طُلب منهم أيضًا جمع معلومات عن رؤية الشعوب للألوان وآلاف الطلبات للقنصليات وغيرها والليلة بقت كبيرة جدا.

النوبيين مكنش عندهم أي كلمة للتعبير عن اللون الأزرق، والهنود في ولاية أوريغون استخدموا لفظ واحد للتعبير عن أكتر من لون، وكذلك السو في ولاية داكوتا استخدموا كلمة "توتو" للتعبير عن اللونين الأزرق والأخضر!

اللي أنهى الجدل ده بشكل كبير كان ريفرز الطبيب النفسي المشهور بعلاجه لآثار الحروب النفسية على الجنود، في 1898 قام بتلبية دعوة من علماء الأنثروبولوجيا بجامعة كامبريدج للقيام بحملة لمضيق التوريس بين أستراليا وغينيا الجديدة، الحملة كان هدفها إلقاء الضوء على السمات العقلية للشعوب البدائية . . انتهز ريفرز الفرصة لإجراء اختبارات بصرية دقيقة على السكان الأصليين رغبة منه في فض ذلك النزاع، خلال أربعة شهور قضاها ريفرز على جزيرة موراي بمضيق توريس، نتائجه جاءت متوافقة لحد كبير مع ما تم التوصل له في العشرين سنة السابقة = أوصاف الألوان عند القبيلة غير محددة ومبهمة . . أكثر الأسماء بتصف اللون الأسود والأبيض والأحمر (الأسود = غوليغوي مشتقة من الحبار، الأبيض = كاكيكاكيك، الأحمر = مامامامام تعني الدم).
ونفس الكلمات دي بتستخدم لوصف ألوان تانية، الواضح إن لغة السكان كانت مختلة جدا، استخدم ريفرز اختبارات أكثر صرامة لمعرفة قدرتهم على التميز بين الألوان، واستخدم نسخة متطورة من اختبار هولمغرن ولكن النتيجة إنهم كانوا بكامل قدرتهم على اكتشاف الفروق الدقيقة بين الألوان المختلفة ودرجاتها ولكن المشكلة كانت في اللغة المختلة!! زي النوبيين في برلين لم يقدروا على التعبير عن الاختلاف في الألوان ولكن عند خضوعهم لاختبارات اكتشاف التمييز بين الألوان كانوا على مقدرة تامة من التمييز بينهم.

تجربة ذهنية بسيطة توضح دور الثقافة في التأثير على اللغة المعبّرة عن الألوان، لو عالم من روسيا مثلا ذهب إلى القبائل البدائية في الجزر الشمالية لأوربا، وطلع بنتيجة إن السكان دول عندهم مشكلة في التفريق بين الأزرق والأزرق الفاتح وإنهم بيطلقوا عليهم اسم واحد، على الرغم من قدرتهم على التمييز بينهم ولكنهم شايفين إنه من السخف استخدام لفظين لدرجتين من لون واحد.

كذلك لو في يوم من الأيام ظهر جهاز يقدر يمزج بين النكهات والأطعمة المختلفة بحيث يقدر يطلع آلاف من المنتجات بالتلاعب في القوام والحلاوة والحموضة والصلابة وغيره، بالتالي هيتم استحداث معجم خاص للتعبير عن كل طعم بصورة منفصلة، ولو حد جاء ليدرس شعوب القرن 21 البدائية هيكتشف إننا معندناش معجم خاص بكل طعم وإننا هنعبر عن الأطعمة المختلفة بأقرب حاجة لينا نعرفها على الرغم من قدرتنا على التمييز بين كل طعم، نفس الكلام عن الألوان بالنسبة للشعوب البدائية وخصوصا إنهم مقدروش يتلاعبوا بالألوان الصناعية كما نفعل نحن الآن وتعاملوا مع الألوان في الغالب بما توفره الطبيعة فقط.

إن الثقافة انتصرت في تلك المعركة، والتغيرات الفسيولوجية ليس لها علاقة بإدراك الألوان، فالقدماء استطاعوا رؤيتها كما نراها الآن، والاختلاف في المصطلحات لا يعبر إلا عن تطورات ثقافية فقط، وليست بيولوجية.

بس الطبيعة لها دور في رسم حدود اللغة...


الچندر اللغوي والفكر!

هل تذكير وتأنيث الجمادات في اللغة بيأثر على تفكيرنا؟!

استعمالنا لـ (هو - هي) عشان نوصف أشياء جامدة ممكن يأثر على طريقة تفكيرنا ولو أثر هل هيسبب مشاكل؟!

العلامات الچندرية :
هي العلامات اللغوية اللي بتحدد نوع الاسم سواء مذكر أو مؤنث (كـ تاء التأنيث في العربية) ولكن مش كل اللغات بتقسم الأسماء لمذكر ومؤنث، فهناك بعض اللغات تملك تفريق أدق من حيث الجندر = لغة البانتو مثلا تمتلك حوالي عشرة تقسيمات، واللغة الأسترالية (نغانغتيميري) تملك خمسة عشر تقسيما = (الإنسان المذكر- المؤنث - الحيوان - الخضار - المشروبات...)، وهناك لغات لا تملك أي تقسيم جندري مثل التركية والفنلندية والفيتنامية وغيرهم . .
وهناك لغات بتملك جندر حيادي، كالإنجليزية مثلا

معظم أو كل اللغات لا تملك نظام منطقي ثابت للجندر اللغوي ، ولكن في إشارات بتقول إن في الأول النظام كان منطقي جدا ولكن مساره انحرف مثلا في لغة الغورغوني الاسترالية ضم (جندر الخضار) اسم الطائرة عبر تسلسل يبدو منطقي ففي البدء توسع الجندر ليشمل الأخشاب ثم ضم القوارب بما أنها مصنوعة من الأخشاب فأصبح يتناول وسائل المواصلات كلها وعند دخول الطائرة للغة الشعب شملها جندر الخضار.
السؤال، هل الچندر النحوي بيأثر على فكر المتحدثين في رؤيتهم ومفهومهم عن الأشياء؟!

في عام 1915 مؤسسة موسكو لعلم النفس في روسيا طلبت من 15 شخص إنهم يتخيلوا أيام الأسبوع على إنهم أشخاص معينين!
ومن ثم يوصفوا هذا الشخص = جميع المشاركين في التجربة تخيلوا يوم الاثنين والثلاثاء والخميس كرجال، والأربعاء والجمعة السبت كنساء، ولكنهم مقدروش يحددوا سبب مقنع لاختيارتهم فالباحثين استنتجوا إن السبب راجع لكون أسماء الأسبوع المذكرة تخيلوها كرجال والمؤنثة كنساء.
في التسعينات قام عالم النفس توشي كونيشي بتجربة يقارن بيها بين تأثير الارتباطات الجندرية لكل من متحدثي الاسبانية والألمانية،
ففي الألمانية والإسبانية هناك أسماء بيتعاكس فيها الجندر في اللغتين = فالهواء في الألمانية مؤنث بينما في الإسبانية مذكر، والجسر في الألماني مؤنث والإسباني مذكر ونفس الكلام بينطبق على الساعات والشقق والشوك والصحف...

قدم كونيشي قائمة بأسماء ذات جندر متعارض في اللغتين وطلب من متحدثي اللغتين إنهم يوصفوا الأشياء دي هل هي قوية أم ضعيفة - صغيرة أم كبيرة؟

النتيجة إن الأشياء المذكرة في الألمانية ومؤنثة في الإسبانية كانت بنسبة أكبر قوية عند الألمان وضعيفة عند الإسبان، وبالعكس الأشياء المؤنثة في الألمانية ومذكرة في الإسبانية كانت بنسبة أكبر قوية عند الإسبان وضعيفة عند الألمان.

فالجسر المذكر في الإسبانية هو ذو سمات رجولية بنسبة أكبر عند الإسبان من الألمان . . ولكن كان هناك اعتراض؟!
إن السمات دي غير متعلقة بالجسر نفسه بل نتيجة سماع أداتين التعريف "el- der".

كان المطلوب أن يتم دراسة التأثيرات الجندرية على حالات لا تستخدم فيها أدوات التعريف:

ليرا بورودتسكي ولورين شميت، جربوا نفس التجربة على متحدثين بالإسبانية والألمانية ولكن باللغة الإنجليزية، بالرغم من استخدام الإنجليزية التي تستعمل جندر حيادي للتعامل مع الجمادات، لكن الخاضعين للتجربة وصفوا الأشيات بسمات متعارضة معتمدة على التأنيث والتذكير في لغتهم، فالألمان وصفوا الجسور بأنها جميلة أنيقة ونحيلة ومدهشة، والأسبان وصفوها بأنها كبيرة وخطيرة وقوية وسميكة!

ولمحاولة التغلب على نفس المشكلة، حاولت ماريا سيرا إنها تستخدم صور بدل الكلمات وطلبت من فرنسيين وأسبان إنهم يختاروا أصوات للصور للمشاركة ففي فيلم = مال أغلبية المشاركين لاختيار أصوات رجال للأشياء المذكرة في لغتهم وأصوات نساء للأشياء المؤنثة . .
التجارب السابقة بتوفر معلومات كافية عن تأثير الجندر اللغوي على فكر متكلمين اللغة ولكن في مشكلة وهي إن التجارب دي بتطلب من المشاركين استخدام خيالهم، أزاي نوصل لتجربة تدينا معلومة من غير الخضوع لآراء المشاركين الشخصية؟!

اللغوية سوزان إفرين حاولت تقرب الموض��ع شوية وتخفف من دور الخيال، واعتمدت على الإيطالية اللي بتضم لهجات عديدة مختلفة واخترعت كلمات من عندها مش موجودة في اللغة . . وانتهت بعض الكلمات بحرف (o) اللي بيدل على المذكر والبعض الآخر انتهى بحرف (A) اللي بيدل على المؤنث . . وعرضت الكلمات على إيطاليين موحية بأنها كلمات من لهجة أخرى وطلبت منهم يوصفوا سمات الكلمات دي؟! . . أثبتت التجربة إن المشاركين كانوا بينسبوا صفات ذكورية على الكلمات المنتهية بحرف (o) وسمات أنثوية على الكلمات المنتهية بحرف (A) على الرغم من عدم معرفة المشاركين بمعاني الكلمات وإنهم بيستخدموا خيالهم متوقعين وجود إجابة صحيحة، بس المشكلة مازالت قائمة نسبيا لأن المشاركين استخدموا خيالهم حتى لو وهم ميعرفوش.
ليرا بورودتسكي ولورين شميت حاولوا تاني يحلوا المشكلة فطلبوا من متحدثين بالإسبانية والألمانية إنهم يشتركوا في لعبة ذاكرة فعرضوا عليهم قائمة بـ 24 جماد وطلب منهم حفظ اسم شخص معين يكون مقابل للشيء المذكور في القائمة = النتيجة إن المشاركين تذكروا بشكل أفضل الاسماء اللي بيتوافق فيها جندر الكلمة مع جنس الاسم مثلا الإسبان تذكروا بشكل أفضل اسم باتريشا للتفاحة (لا مانسا) لأنها مؤنثة أكثر من تذكرهم لاسم باتريك . . وكذلك كان أسهل تذكر اسم كلاوديو -المذكر- كاسم للجسر مقابل اسم كلاوديا.

التجارب السابقة بتأكد بما لا يدع مجال للشك إن الجندر اللغوي بيأثر في طريقة تفكرينا وتذكرنا للأشياء، العادة النحوية في استخدام (هو وهي) للأشياء هتتحول لعادة ذهنية، فتفرض سمات أنثوية أو ذكورية على أشياء جامدة في حقيقتها، طبعا الكلام ملوش علاقة بقدراتنا المنطقية لأننا قادرين جدا نفرق بين الجنس والنحو، ومش هنعتقد إن للجمادات أعضاء تناسلية، ولكنه في الأخير بيمثل قيد بتفرضه علينا اللغة من دون أن نشعر!!
هل الناطق بالإنجليزية هيشوف حالنا نحن من نملك نظام جندري في لغتنا إننا مدعاة للشفقة والرثاء بما إنه يملك جندر حيادي!

في الحقيقة الجندر النحوي وهو هدية اللغة للشعراء . . فاللغات الممتلكة لجندر نحوي هي أكثر خصوبة من صحراء الإنجليزية اللي بتعاني في ترجمة (قصيدة البحر) لنيرودا وهو بيتكلم عن البحر المذكر اللي بـ يرطم صخرة مؤنثة ثم (يربت عليها ويقبلها ويبللها)ومجموعة باسترناك (حياتي الشقيقة) لم تكن لتنجح لو لم تكن (الحياة) في الروسية مؤنثة ولكن الجمادات عندما تأتي للإنجليزية ستكون حيادية بلا جنس يعبر عن العلاقة بين شجر الصنوبر والنخلة!


انتقد دويتشر فرضية سابير-وورف وكلامهم عن )نسبية اللغة(، من خلال نقطتين أساسيتين، الأولى إن سابير استنتج من مظهر لغوي اللي هو دمج الاسم مع الفعل في كلمة واحدة زي (إنها تمطر( وممكن نترجم جملة سقط الحجر لأسفل -في لغة السكان الـ استنتج منهم سابير ملاحظته- إلى (يحجر لأسفل) ، استنتج سابير إن اللغة هنا بتفرض على المتكلم بيها في الحالة دي رؤية أحادية للعالم وبكده مش هيعرف يفصل بين اسم الشيء وفعله وهيشوفهم حاجة واحدة!!
وورف استنتج من محادثات مجموعة من لغة الهوبي إن معندهمش زمن ومفيش عندهم تصريفات لغوية للماضي والمستقبل وفاستنتج إنهم لا يعتبروا الزمن انسيابي متسلسل بل أحادي الاتجاه أو مش موجود أصلا . . وكان لفرضية سابير-وورف أثر واسع، وجاء إيكهارت مالوتكي في 1983 ذكر في أكتر من 600 صفحة التعبيرات الزمنية المتعددة في لغة الهوبي.
لجأ دويتشر لما أسماه عقيدة بواس-جاكبسون، وإن تأثير اللغة على الفكر ليس بما تتيحه اللغة للتعبير عنه ولكن بما تفرضه على المتحدث بها من اهتمام بجوانب معينة دون الأخرى، في اللغة الصينية مثلا يستطيع المتحدث التهرب من الإفصاح عن الزمن والإنجليزية لا تفرض على المتحدث بها الإفصاح عن جنس الفاعل في حالات معينة، لغة الماتسيس بتلزم المتكلم على التعبير بدقة عن الزمن فبتفرق بين 3 أوقات أساسين (أقل من شهر - أكبر من شهر لخمسين عام - من خامسين عام لأبعد) كمان بتلزمه على الإفصاح عن طريقة حصوله على المعرفه سواء بالرؤية أو الحدس أو الحس أو غيره.
فالأبحاث الحديثة بتتجه لفهم تأثير اللغة على الفكر بما تفرضه اللغة على المتكلم، بحيث بتتحول العادات اللغوية لعادات ذهنية وبتأثر في الذاكرة أيضا.
لغة الغوغو يميثر بتستخدم الإحداثيات الجغرافية بدل الأنوية egocentic فبدل ما المتكلم يقول (هناك نملة أمام قدمك) هيقول هناك نملة شَمال قدمك وطبعا الموضوع بيتوسع ليشمل تذكره لموضعه عند وصفه لحدث سابق ووصف مكانه وتغير الوصف ده مع تغير مكانه الحالي -لحظة التذكر- واستخدامه ليده وهناك لغات أخرى تستخدم أيضا إحداثيات مختلفة غير (اليمين واليسار) أو (الشمال والجنوب) . . فلغة بولينيزيا بتستخدم محاور ثابتة عبارة عن أعلى الجبل وأسفل المنحدر!! . .
والثلاث مواضيع الكبرى اللي تناولهم دويتشر في معالجته لتأثير اللغة في الفكر هم
- إدراك الألون
- الإحداثيات في اللغة
- والچندر اللغوي
تأثيرات اللغة في الفكر غير متعلقة بإدراكنا المنطقي وليس هناك أدلة حتى الآن تثبت إن اللغة ممكن تكون حجر عثرة في سبيل حل القضايا المنطقية بحيث يعجز أهل لغة ما على مواجهة مشكلة منطقية معينة وتكون نفس المشكلة محلولة عن أهل لغة أخرى بسبب لغتهم فقط . . ولكن حياة الإنسان أكثر تعقيدا من أن تجعلنا نهتم بتأثير اللغة على الجوانب المنطقية فقط، فما تم إثباته علميا هو تأثير اللغة على الذاكرة والإدراك وترابط الأفكار وفي المهارات العملية مثل حس الاتجاهات.
Profile Image for fourtriplezed .
467 reviews100 followers
January 1, 2023
The sciences are without a doubt my weakest reads. Try as I might, I am at times unable to take all the information supplied in as the brain does not sponge the info up as I would like. Be that as it may, popular science books such as this have the occasion to bring some semblance of wow moments to my sieve like mind.

I had never really thought of the language differences between various cultures when looking and talking about colour, for example. The use of language in spatial situations was so interesting that I reread a few passages just to get my head around that concept. The peoples of the Guugu Yimithirr from north Queensland having no concept of Right or Left, but using North/South/East/West in terms of describing direction no matter where they were? The chapter that covered this Where The Sun Doesn’t Rise In the East was fascinating. The gender differences in various languages were of particular interest, imagine the wars that have started just because of a misunderstood translation.

One comment I will make on the writing of language is that even the author got it wrong in one little passage. A man of the Guugu Yimithirr when discussing with linguists direction was quoted as saying “But white fellows wouldn’t understand that.” Whitefella (or Blackfella) please when quoting indigenous Australians, I have never heard it different and suspect that if the author had known he may have written it that way. Did he miss any others, I asked myself?

Blackfella Whitefella

Recommended to anyone with an interest in language.
Profile Image for عبدالرحمن عقاب.
692 reviews800 followers
May 23, 2016
كتابٌ أكثر من رائع ومفيد وممت��! وأنصح به بشدّة لكل محبِّ للثقافة والاطلاع.
أحبّ تلك الكتب التي تطرح الرأيين النقيضين، وتناقشهما، وهذا الكتاب مثال على ذلك.
هل اللغة أثر أم مؤثّر؟ ما هي العلاقة بين اللغة والثقافة. وبين اللغة والطبيعة البشرية (الخلقية)؟! أو باستخدام تعبيرات الكاتب الجميلة؛ هل اللغة "مرآة" نرى فيها انعكاس طبيعتنا أم هي "عدسة نرى" بها، وتتشكّل من خلالها ثقافتنا؟!
يأخذنا الكاتب في رحلة علمية على متن التساؤلات والأبحاث والملاحظات في رحلة ابتدأت بسؤال ذكي وملاحظة عبقرية في القرن التاسع عشر الميلادي لأحد المهووسين بالأدب، عندما لاحظ غياب ذكر اللون الأزرق في أشعار هوميروس اليوناني وتسميات ألوان مختلفة! واستقرّت –مؤقتًا- عند تجارب الرنين المغناطيسي الوظيفي fMRI في مطلع القرن الحادي والعشرين.
يعرض الكتاب لأمثلةٍ مختلفة من لغاتٍ عدّة؛ بعضها حيّ نابض كالإنجليزية والفرنسية والألمانية والصينية والروسية وكذلك العبرية (ويعرّج قليلاً على العربية)، وبعضها ميّت أو يحتضر كلغات القبائل التي تعيش في أطراف القارات أو أدغال الغابات.
في الكتاب حديثٌ عن الألوان وتسمياتها، وادعاءات تعقيدات اللغات وتشابهها أو اختلافها، وعن تسميات الجهات والأماكن. كما يتحدّث فصلٌ عن تأثير التصنيف النوعي (الجندر) على اللغات وهو فصل ممتع جدًا، وفيه استعراض لكيف وصلت اللغات إلى تأنيث وتذكير بعض الجمادات!
يحمل الكتاب إجابات مقترحةٍ لا قاطعة، ويحمل كثيرًا من الأسئلة التي تستحقّ التفكّر وإعادة النظر. والكتاب جدير بترك انطباعه القويّ في لفت الانتباه إلى اللغة التي اعتدناها والكلمات التي ألفناها.
شكرٌ واجب لسلسلة عالم المعرفة التي حرصت على ترجمة كثير من عيون الكتب ونشرتها بطبعات لائقة بها وبأسعار زهيدة، وشكرٌ واجب للمترجمة التي أبدعت في الترجمة وكتابة بعض الحواشي التوضيحية (د.حنان مظفّر)، ورجاءٌ خاص بأن نرى عمل الكاتب الآخر ( unfolding language ) والذي أشار الكاتب له عدّة مراتٍ في كتابه هذا مترجمًا بذات الجودة.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,629 followers
February 1, 2021
A very interesting read on what's best known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (that the language you speak affects the way you're able to think)--the history of this, dating back to Gladstone on Homer, the fact-ignoring enthusiasm and nonsense that got spewed in its support and a few, acknowledgedly weak and pretty trivial, ways in which language does seem to shape our thoughts. Mostly really interesting on making you think about how we work around the constraints of language if/when we need to, and some deep seated cultural effects (which are not the same thing as constraints on thought)--as is observed, the issue isn't what information a language doesn't include, it's more what it forces you to include.

Well written and highly readable.
Profile Image for Raya راية.
779 reviews1,385 followers
November 3, 2021
يتناول الكتاب فكرة العلاقة بين اللغة والعقل، وهل يتغير منظورنا للعالم باختلاف لغاتنا؟
كتاب جميع ممتع ومميز
وأظن بأني سأقرأ المزيد من الكتب فيما يخص هذا الموضوع.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,317 reviews978 followers
April 1, 2023
This is a short book, comparatively speaking: only around 250 pages of actual text (the rest is notes, appendices, bibliography, etc.). I’m fairly certain all of my linguistics textbooks were at least double that length, but then again, this book isn’t meant to be a textbook. It’s more or less pop linguistics: written in a jocular, conversational tone, intended for the non-academic layperson curious about what probably seems an impregnable field of study. If you’ve never dipped your toe into linguistics, this is a decent place to start. If you’re of the more seasoned stuff, give this one a pass: the majority of what’s expounded upon is the basic theory of colour perception, a rehashing of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, a series of amusing historical anecdotes, and a light-hearted tone approaching incredibly complex topics.

Going into this book, I was a bit wary, having heard that Deutscher took a rather eurocentric viewpoint and indeed was dismissive of endangered languages (primarily Indigenous or Aboriginal languages) as being “primitive,” “savage,” and so on. The first encounter with one of these situations was in the introduction, when Deutscher was discussing differences between languages:
No language—not even that of the most “primitive” tribes—is inherently unsuitable for expressing the most complex ideas.
Hm. That certainly seems like a tongue-in-cheek use of the word “primitive,” from my perspective, as evidenced by the scare quotes. This attitude is relatively consistent throughout. For all Deutscher’s fancy phraseology, he seemed to me to be acutely aware of the negative inferences that can be drawn from stating that different languages influence different types of thought.

Now, to be transparent, I do agree with the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis—the actual Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, not the oft-touted misinterpretation that’s become so prevalent in pop science. That language and culture, and the variances of such, are tightly woven is no new theory, nor is it unsupported by hard evidence. It’s tricky to quantify the amount which one’s native language influences one’s development, although there are certain quantifiable influences, i.e., bilingual or multilingual children tend to have higher neural plasticity and are more adept at learning new languages later on, the simple product of neurological development. There’s the dog-schema situation; there’s categorising thoughts as words versus as images. I do agree, for the most part, with Deutscher’s own hypothesis, which does seem to take into account the way globalism and widespread internet access has transformed the linguistic landscape into which humans are born—someone isolated in their birth culture with little exposure to global variance for the formative developmental years of their childhood will, naturally, be more strongly influenced by their own native culture and subsequently language than someone raised in a multicultural, multilinguistic society with frequent exposure to diverse cultures and languages. Two millennia ago, people living far inland might not have been able to conceptualise the ocean, never having seen it; today, even the most land-locked populations can watch YouTube videos of ocean waves and feel like they’re really there. The blind men understand the elephant when it’s explained to them.

However, I did also agree with the criticism that Deutscher avoided directly blaming racism, imperialism, colonialism, and general globalisation for the rapid extinction of minority or otherwise endangered languages. Even when Deutscher is trying to argue that the loss of this greater linguistic diversity is a net loss, he manages to avoid naming the problem itself (emphasis mine):
How many other features of mainstream European languages are there, which we still take as natural and universal even today simply because no one has yet properly understood the languages that do things differently? We may never know. Or put another way, if the prospect of having to make further uncomfortable adaptations to our worldview seems daunting, the good news is that it is getting unlikelier by the minute that we will ever discover such features. Together with Guugu Yimithirr, hundreds of othertropical languagesare going to the wall, dispersed by the onward march of civilization. The conventional predictions are that within two to three generations at least half the world’s six thousand or so languages will have disappeared, especially those remote tribal tongues that are really different from what seems natural to us. With every year that passes, the notion that all languages do things essentially like English or Spanish is becoming closer to reality. Soon enough, it may be factually correct to argue that the “standard average European” way is the only natural model for human language, because there are no languages that substantially diverge from it. But this will be a hollow truth.
Tongue-in-cheek the comment about the “onward march of civilisation” may be, but accurate it is not. Indigenous minority languages are not being “dispersed” by “civilisation”; they are being hunted to extinction by poachers. Every culture has its own idea of civilisation—something Deutscher himself argues in this very book!—and yet somehow it is the “onward march of civilisation” to blame for the loss of endangered languages, not actual tangible causes. The Irish were not forced to speak British English in the interest of “civilisation,” Indigenous Americans were not beaten for speaking their native languages in the interest of “civilisation,” regional dialects are not systematically stamped out in the interest of “civilisation,” créole languages are not brutally suppressed in French-occupied territories in the interest of “civilisation,” individuals with less-frequent Chinese characters in their names are not forced to change their names in the interest of “civilisation,” and it’s not only naïve to think so but also actively harmful.

There were also certain linguistic errors which were really inexcusable. At many points it was difficult to discern what Deutscher’s own opinion was, since he would often convey the opinions and beliefs of various other scholars, take them at face value, continue on for a good dozen or so pages, and then turn around and introduce a new piece of information into the equation. This felt rather like listening to a rambling tale told by an elderly professor: entertaining enough, but not particularly informative or coherent.

One example is the often-referenced concept that ancient Greeks somehow perceived colours differently, a theory drawn from Homeric epithets: the “wine-dark” sea, “violet” hair; the sea is hardly the colour of wine, and Manic Panic had yet to be invented, so what could these possibly mean? If Deutscher, and most non-experts, are to be believed, the ancient Greeks perceived colour differently:
Probably the single most famous phrase from the whole Iliad and Odyssey that is still in common currency today is that immortal color epithet, the “wine-dark sea.” [...] As it happens, “wine-dark” is already an act of redemptive interpretation in the translation, for what Homer actually says is oinops, which literally means “wine-looking” (oinos is “wine” and op- is the root “see”. But what does the color of the sea have to do with wine? As an answer to [William] Gladstone’s simple question, scholars have suggested all manner of imaginable and unimaginable theories to wave away the difficulty. The most common answer was to suggest that Homer must have been referring to the deep purple-crimson shade, such as a troubled sea has at dawn or sunset. Alas, there is no indication that Homer used the epithet for the sea at dawn or sunset in particular. It has also been suggested, apparently in all earnestness, that the sea can sometimes look red because of certain types of algae. Another scholar, despairing of the possibility of painting the sea red, tried instead to turn wine blue and claimed that “blue and violet reflects are visible in certain wines of southern regions, and especially in the vinegar from home-made wines.” There is no need to dwell on why all these theories hold neither wine nor water. But there was one other method for circumventing the difficulty, which was applied by many a self-respecting commentator and which does deserve some comment. This was to call upon that fool-proof catchall of literary criticism: poetic license. (...) But when all is said and sung, the elegant conceit of the critics’ animadversions does not bear up to Gladstone’s sophisticated literal-mindedness, for his sure-footed analysis had all but eliminated the possibility that poetic license could be the explanation for the oddities in Homer’s color descriptions. Gladstone was not poetically tone-deaf, and he was well attuned to the artful effect of what he called “straining epithets of colour.”
This is nonsense. The answer is indeed poetic licence. The term οἶνοψ πόντος is typically used to refer to a stormy, choppy ocean, where large waves turn the sea dark. The term means “dark.” The idea that the ancient Greeks didn’t have a word for the colour blue is also incorrect: they actually had several. The word κύανος, from whence we get “cyan,” referred to blue. (There’s some evidence that κύανος evolved from the PIE root *ḱwey-, which meant “to shine; white; light,” but this is unconfirmed. If true, it would indeed further the theory that white and blue are etymologically connected, which Deutscher also touches on.) The word κάλαϊς referred to a greenish-blue (cf. Chinese 青 [qīng]) or turquoise. The word καλάϊνος similarly referred to something that shifted between green and blue. The word κυάνεος referred to a dark or glossy blue. (Here’s a list of a bunch of Ancient Greek names for different colours.)
Or what is one to make of the flower name “violet” (ioeis), which Homer uses as a designation for the color of ... the sea. (Homer’s phrase ioeidea ponton is variously translated—according to the translator’s muse—as the “violet sea,” the “purple ocean,” or the “violet-colored deep.”) And is it also poetic license that allows Homer to use the same flower to describe the sheep in the cave of the Cyclops as “beautiful and large, with thick violet wool”? Presumably, what Homer was referring to were black sheep as opposed to white ones, and it may be granted that “black sheep” are not really black but actually very dark brown. But violet? Or what about another place in the Iliad, where Homer applies the term “violet” to describe iron? And if the violet seas, violet sheep, and violet iron are all to be written off as poetic licenses, then what about a different passage, where Homer compares Odysseus’s dark hair to the color of the hyacinth?
...not violet-coloured. Curly. Much like how the word “violet” can refer to the colour or to the flower, the word Homer used—ὑακίνθινος, “hyacinthine”—could refer either to the flower, the colour, or the shape. Hyacinth flowers are purple, yes, and sometimes that word could be used to refer to the colour purple. Look at what hyacinths look like:

Homer’s use of the word chlôros is no less peculiar. In later stages of Greek, chlôros just means “green” (and it is this meaning that has inspired familiar terms in the language of science, such as the pigment chlorophyll and the greenish gas chlorine). But Homer employs the word in a variety of senses that don’t seem to suit greenness very comfortably. Most often, chlôros appears as a description of faces pale with fear. While this could merely be a metaphor, chlôros is also used for fresh twigs and for the olive wood club of the Cyclops. Both twigs and olive wood would strike us today as brown or gray, but with a bit of goodwill we might still give Homer the benefit of the doubt here. This goodwill is stretched to the limit, however, when Homer uses the same word to describe honey. Hands up, anyone who has ever seen green honey.
ME. I HAVE. When honey is fresh and heated up, the light that shines through it makes it look green. Of course, the bottled stuff you get in a supermarket chain won’t be green, because it’s not straight from the comb. The word χλωρός referred to a yellowish green, which would make sense for olive wood, and budding twigs would indeed be a light yellow-green colour. The word also had a metaphorical meaning, similar to how the English word “green” can be used: young, inexperienced. Homer is not saying that those “pale” faces were literally green in colour. Homer is saying that these men were behaving like inexperienced children.
Homer often describes the same object with incompatible color terms. Iron, for instance, is said to be “violet” in one passage, “gray” elsewhere, and in yet another place it is referred to as aithôn, a term otherwise used to refer to the color of horses, lions, and oxen.
So the word here referenced, αἴθων, referred to fire or burning, and also to burnished metal. Fire, as you may be aware, can be many different colours. The word αἴθων could refer to a fire-coloured object, or to a shiny object, or to a metaphorically fire-related object. No one who says “his fiery steed” thinks the horse is literally on fire. Likewise someone’s “fiery temper” is purely metaphorical. Poetic licence.

And as for the assertion that the colour of iron changes: yeah, man, not all pieces of iron are created equal.
Homer’s silence on the color of the sky shouts even louder. Here, says Gladstone, “Homer had before him the most perfect example of blue. Yet he never once so describes the sky. His sky is starry, or broad, or great, or iron, or copper; but it is never blue.”
If the natural state of something remains unchanged, why would it be necessary to describe it? The sky’s being blue is nothing remarkable; it’s only worth mentioning when it has a specific characteristic not always or typically observed. It would be ridiculous to describe the grass as green every time you mention grass, or the sun as bright every time you mention the sun, because those things are known.
[Homer’s] fields may be “well-grown of wheat” or “new moistened with rain in summer-time,” but their hue is not divulged. His hills may be “woody” and his woods may be “thick” or “dark” or “shady,” but they are not green.
Are you CHILDREN? Are you BABIES? Do you not understand what colour WHEAT IS? If a field is described as having wheat, it can be safely assumed that IT LOOKS LIKE WHEAT. Calling a forest “green” is simplistic, while further categorising it as thick, dark, shady gives more information. OBVIOUSLY the forest is green. It’s a FOREST.
There is no escaping the conclusion that Homer’s relation to color is seriously askew: he may often talk about light and brightness, but seldom does he venture beyond gray scale into the splendor of the prism. In those instances when colors are mentioned, they are often vague and highly inconsistent: his sea is wine-colored, and when not wine-colored, it is violet, just like his sheep. His honey is green and his southern sky is anything but blue.

The sea is dark and choppy, taking on a quality reminiscent of wine. The sea is full of waves, which resemble flower petals. The wool of a sheep is short and curled, like hyacinth flowers. Fresh honey looks green and “new” in the light. Everyone knows the sky is blue so saying it’s blue would be gilding the lily.
Not only is this not the case, but it seems that traces of the very same oddities still abounded among the ancient Greeks even centuries later. “Violet-colored hair,” for example, was used as a description in Pindar’s poems in the fifth century BC.
NOT VIOLET. CURLY. CURLY HAIR. “Violet sheep”... THEY’RE HYACINTH SHEEP, first of all, and second of all, THEY’RE CURLY SHEEP. The ancient Greeks did not think the ocean was red or sheep were purple or hair was the same thing as flower petals. Do you think people have actual almonds in place of eyes? Are “white”-skinned people as pale as chalk? Is someone “green with envy” actually the same shade as a lettuce? Obviously not.
The same coalescing of blue and black (...) can be seen in the etymology of “blue” in languages further afield, such as Chinese. This suggests that at an earlier period in the history of all these languages, “blue” was not yet recognized as a concept in its own right and was subsumed under either black or green.
No. It means that dark blue looks black, and black can have a blue hue to it. Old comic books used to shade black with blue; you’ll see that on old Batman comics a lot. The Chinese term alluded to is 青 [qīng], which can mean “blue,” “green,” or “blue-green” (or, in older and/or literary contexts, “black”). The etymology of the character 青 actually has nothing to do with black, however; it’s an ideogrammatic compound from 生 (“growing, living”) + 丹 (“cinnabar,” which was used as dye, ergo an implication of colour in a general sense), i.e., the colour of growing plants, a pale greenish-blue. There are also plenty of other colour words in Chinese that contradict this theory, such as 蒼 [cāng], meaning “blue” or “green,” but also “white” or “grey”; 藍 [lán], meaning “blue” or “indigo”; 紺 [gàn], meaning “purple,” ���violet,�� or “dark red”; 綠 [lǜ], meaning “green”; 翠 [cuì], meaning “blue-green,” “cyan,” “green jade; jadeite,” or any bright colour; or 皂 [zào], meaning “black,” originally meaning “acorn.”

Look. Ancient literary works are not going to provide basic facts about the observable universe, because it’s assumed that the audience already knows these things. This was all long before the idea of citing your sources and providing solid evidence was considered a prerequisite to be taken seriously. The language used in a millennia-old poem is not going to involve the most literal definitions of words. The linguistic colour theory is interesting to be sure, but Ancient Greek poetry is not the place to find further evidence of it.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,014 followers
January 25, 2014
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 feelings up.

(For me, and this is a brief digression, I do suspect that those who "feel different" when they speak other languages aren't taking into account context. For example, say you speak Hebrew with your family and English in school. You are a different person in those two contexts, but not because of the language you speak. You're adapting yourself to the situation, including the language. I suspect that even years after that division is so clear, where you might speak Hebrew to someone in the workplace, the associations remain.)

Anyway, I found the book itself a bit dense and prone to repetition, but overall, very interesting. I loved the discussion of the issue of colour in Homer's work, as it's something that inevitably came up when discussing his epithets in class. Why "wine-dark sea"? How could the sea look like wine? And this book has the answer.

It's fairly conservative in its conclusions, not going beyond the available data -- and mocking rather people who did go beyond their data -- and explaining everything at some length rather than packing in various new ideas. It does include a lot of examples and interesting facts about various languages, like languages which don't use egocentric directions but always geographical ones. I would've been interested in a bit more on gendered language, but it doesn't seem as if the work has been done there, yet. It also gives some credit for ideas that were ahead of their time, even if they were founded on shaky principles, which was interesting.

Ultimately, Deutscher explains why early assumptions that language affects the way we perceive the world were wrong -- but then goes on to explain that that instinctive feeling isn't wrong in itself.
Profile Image for Lena Tumasyan.
144 reviews7 followers
August 7, 2011
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 how language affects thought or behavior. The intro and reviews (it was recommended on New York Times) made it sound like a book about language affecting thought. IT wasn't.

I liked Deutchers' writing style. He was easy to read and funny. I liked his use of many examples, and then defining the examples to make it REALLY easy to understand. However, he NEVER really defined how A Language makes ONE society's thought be different from another's. He talked a little bit how a language FORCES one to pay attention and speak in a specific way. I really loved his example of how some cultures only have N S E W directions instead of front, back, left right. I understand what he said. I liked his analysis on "how can all language be equally complex? they cant." But i wish there were more examples like that.

More than half of the book (waaay too much ) was devoted to how different societies define colors. For example, how many cultures only have one word for green and blue. Maybe it's just that many studies haven't been done on language and culture. I don't know. Then he devoted a TINY section of the book to sex of objects, but not enough.

This book should have been titled "Culture and Color." I would have been less let down if he JUST focused on color (he did so for more than half the book) and talk about other stuff (sex of objects, directions) in another book. "Through the Language Glass" was interesting, and well researched, but not what the book intro claimed to be about.
Profile Image for Marawan Awad.
176 reviews77 followers
November 26, 2015
لماذا لا تأخذ مثل هذه الكاتب من الصدى الإعلامة و الضجة الموضوية كما لغيرها من الكتب البيعية التجارية التي لا تسمن و لا تغني من شيء!

بلا تردد هذا أفضل كتاب قرأته في 2015ّ!
من بين 45 كتاب ...

- بعيدا عن اسم الكتاب و الذي أترجمه "من خلال نظارة اللغة" أنه ليس من النوع الذي يجلب إليه الأنظار أو يدل على محتواه الثمين ...

هذا الكتاب يحتوي على كم من التجارب العلمية و النظريات و الافاتراضات عن العقل البشرس للاجابةة عن السؤال هل لغتنا الأم تؤثر على طريقة تفكيرنا ؟
هل العربي يفكر بنمط مختلف عن الألماني ؟ عن الصيني؟ لمجرد أن لغته مختلفة (بعيدا عن تأثير الحضارة و الثقافة و التربية ) ؟؟؟

استخدم الكاتب ثلاث اختلافات رئيسية بين اللغات أثبت العلم أنها تأثر على رايتنا للعالم :
1- مفرداتنا في وصف الاتجاهات و وصف الاماكن نسبيا
2- الجندرية (الكلمات المذكرة و المؤنثة) بين لغة و أخرى
3- أسماء الألوان

تقريري أنه أفضل كتاب هو أنه استطاع ان يقتحم أماكن جديدة في فهمي ��لعقل البشري و أن أسأل أسئلة جديدة بأجوبة غير متوقعة ...
هناك لغات لا تفرق في المصطلح بين الاخضر و الازرق .... هل يرون بشكل مختلف؟ ألم تتطور لديهم و ظائف البصر مثل غيرهم من الشعوب؟ هل لديهم عمى ألوان جمعي؟ هل يؤثر هذا المصطلح على تمييزهم للالوان و درجتها و ذاكرتهم ؟

هناك لغات لا تعرف اليمين و اليسار و الامام و الخلف! و انما كل ما تعرفه هو الشمال و الجنوب و الشرق و الغرب .... و العمس صحيح .... ولكن كيف يرون العالم ؟ كلعبة يتحرك فيها الشخصيات و الارض ثابته ؟ أم كشخصية تتحرك معها الكاميرا اينما تحرك .... فلا يفرق بين الشرق و الغرب ما لم تتواجد قرينه !

عندما نقوم بسآل الأسبان عن وصف كلمة "جسر" فانهم يقولون انه قوي و متين (كما العرب) بينما عندما نسأل الألمان فإنهم يردون أنه رشيق و جميل و مرن !
و السبب يرجع أن لفظ جسر عند الألمان مؤنث (جسرة) .... هل حقا يؤثر ذلك على رؤتنا للأشياء و تفكيرنا فيها !

أرشح هذا الكتاب بشدة لكل القراء ....
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,162 reviews1,261 followers
November 24, 2022
3.5 stars

An interesting, readable work of popular nonfiction. The title sounds as if it will be a defense of the now-roundly-discredited Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which posited that language determined people’s worldviews (so for instance, languages without a future tense had speakers with no concept of the future. As it happens, plenty of languages spoken by advanced societies don’t have a future tense, which in no way impairs people’s ability to plan: in Japanese, for instance, present and future tenses are merged, and we also frequently do this in English although for us it isn’t obligatory. Think “I’m going to the store tomorrow.”).

In fact, Deutscher begins by thoroughly debunking Sapir-Whorf himself, before moving on to discuss some far more limited ways in which language affects people’s thoughts. The big one is our perception of color. Scholars of ancient texts noted back in the 19th century that colors were weirdly absent or just plain weirdly described, from Homer to the Vedas to the Old Testament, which led to research showing consistent patterns in languages’ development of color vocabulary: we start with black and white, then red, and then move on to yellow, green, and blue, with a bit of variation but blue generally coming last. Before a language has a specific term, its speakers can still see the colors, of course, but studies seem to show that we actually perceive colors falling under the same linguistic umbrellas as shades of each other, and thus closer to each other than they actually are.

A later, fascinating chapter deals with sense of direction, and the now-famous Guugu Yimithirr (an Aboriginal language of Australia), with its positional language that uses only cardinal directions, rather than situating people or objects in relation to one another. (You couldn’t say in Guugu Yimithirr that something is in front of or behind you, for instance: it must be north, east, south or west of you.) Variations on this exist around the world—island languages that define everything as seaward or inland, mountain languages where it’s upslope or downslope. Speakers develop such a finely tuned sense of the cardinal directions at all times that it’s virtually impossible to disorient them, and directions are even firmly encoded into their memories of events, both dramatic and mundane.

Other chapters deal with languages that assign gender to inanimate objects (or, bizarrely, assign genders to humans that contradict their actual sex, such as German using “it” articles for “girl,” at which point “gender” in today’s usage seems a misleading term for the whole classification system), and how this affects people’s perceptions of objects. And there’s a bit on language complexity, mostly focused on Deutscher’s debunking of the claim that all languages are equally complex. This was somewhat puzzling to me, not having heard the claim but having read McWhorter on the ways tiny, isolated languages tend to be incredibly baroque. According to Deutscher, this is largely in the morphology: tiny languages tend to have very complex word structures, while more-spoken languages tend to have more sounds and more complex sentence structures with lots of room for subordinate clauses.

Overall, this is definitely an interesting book, though its ultimate conclusion seems to be that the effects of language on the mind are mostly a matter of trivia—pending, of course, further research. It’s very readable, and I generally enjoyed my time with it (though the way he talks about indigenous societies being displaced and massacred comes off as pretty callous—it’s hard to tell on the page if he was going for black humor). A worthwhile read for those particularly interested in the topic.
Profile Image for Madeleine.
Author 2 books867 followers
August 7, 2012
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 into its pants on the first date, it always disproportionately impresses me when a non-native speaker can so thoroughly rock this notoriously tricky tongue. Every well-executed pun (my ultimate linguistic guilty pleasure, for sure), every beautifully rendered lengthy sentence, every GRE-worthy word did something extra-special to my brain because I just couldn't get over how flawless and stunning Deutscher's English is. There are people who can write literately and there are people who should be getting paid to write because they're so bloody good at it: Betcha can't guess where I think the author fits on that spectrum.

The book begins with a lengthy examination of how color names and thresholds vary across languages. The strangeness of Homer's color vocabulary in "The Odyssey" ("wine-dark sea" being the jumping-off point here), possible biological mutations of the eye over a couple millennia, different cultures' attitudes toward the importance of naming hues, and how red always seems to be the first proper color to be saddled with a name are just a few of the topics explored in the book's first half. Since the influence that language and culture have on each other is apparently a concept in its respectable infancy (being the victim of red herrings, faulty conclusions and plain ol' stereotyping had reduced the line of thinking to rather embarrassing lows), it seems like using color-naming conventions as a primary example was the best way to go; however, had I not come to this book with a background in art and color theory (waning as they may be), I probably would have gone cross-eyed many times before yelling at the book to get to the bloody point already.

In exploring a topic as broad as cultural variations, even confining them to their linguistic mirrors leaves room for numerous forays into surprise discoveries. The failure of translations -- when, for example, one language employs gender nomenclature in ways the other doesn't -- was especially interesting to me. Realizing how a passage can be so packed with implications and inherent musicality in its original tongue but so flat and uninspired in another left me with a whole new respect for the difficulties of translating an entire work, especially once this book offered up snippets indicating that knowing a language is only half of truly understanding its place as a living, malleable part of society.

There were other things that tickled me enough to hastily scribble a few now-nonsensically truncated notes to myself, like how this book didn't focus on just the more popular Germanic and Romance languages, as quite a few tribal tongues received considerable attention. A number of languages seemed to reflect a less-than-modern view of women (I'll be damned if I can think of any examples right now). And it seems as though Latin has been key in uncovering cultural differences, though I could have told you that as a high-school freshman, thanks to my then-textbook's inclusion of "plagosa" (which means "fond of whipping") in its back-of-the-book dictionary.
Profile Image for Betsy.
569 reviews192 followers
January 21, 2015
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 instinct not affected by environment or culture or that all languages are equally complex. Instead, Deutscher demonstrates both ways in which culture influences language -- the "language mirror" -- and how language influences culture -- the "language lens".

I'm not sure he entirely makes the case for his positions. Although his examples are detailed and well demonstrated, there are relatively few of them. However, I got the impression he was not expecting to totally overturn linguistic thought, but instead to reanimate a discussion that had been unfairly discontinued. I felt like what he was really objecting to were the absolutes of previous theory. Deutscher says that language is more complex than we thought, or than linguistic scholars thought. He doesn't specifically deny the existence of a language instinct, but says that there's a lot more to it than that.

Deutscher's writing style is very relaxed, almost colloquial. A thought provoking and very enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Aslı Can.
713 reviews215 followers
January 19, 2020
Müthiş bir kitap. Öncelikle klasik bir 'dile dair bildiğimiz her şey' kitabından öte 'bilim insanı olarak bilmediğimiz, bildiğimizi sandığımız, bilmesek de bildiğimizde ısrar ettiğimiz ve ısrarla da tekrar ettiğimiz şeyler' kitabı da aynı zamanda. Yaklaşımı hem şüpheci hem de mizahi. Dil üzerine geniş kapsamlı ve tutarlı bir zeminde yürütülen tartışmalar, dil üzerine düşünmek için güzel veriler sunuyor. Mütevazi üslubu da asla elden bırakmıyor, hep bir ''bence şöyle ama yine de ileride bir gün zırvalıyor olduğum ortaya çıkabilir'' havasıyla yazmış Deutscher.

Rahatlıkla takip edilip, kavranabiliyor ve iddialı yargılarda bulunmamasına rağmen bir sürü şey öğretiyor.
Profile Image for فيصل.
54 reviews107 followers
March 2, 2021
الكتاب مثري واستفدت منه كثير بالذات في موضوع التطور التاريخي لأسماء الألوان في اللغات، وفي مجال ادراك المكان والمساحة وعلاقتها باللغة، كنت مستمتع بالكتاب لكن قل تقديري له عند النهاية لأني ما وجدته تعرّض للموضوع الأساسي بشكل كافي (كيف تجعلك اللغة تنظر الى العالم بشكل مختلف). اكتفى الكاتب بدراسة تجارب علمية مختلفة عن ثلاث مواضيع هي ادراك الالوان والمكان والتقسيم الجندري داخل اللغة. ورغم كون هذه المواضيع ملفتة ومهمة وذكية، لكن يغفل الكاتب جوانب أخرى كثيرة من اللغة، فمثلاً لم يتطرّق إلا لماماً لأثر اللغة على طريقة التفكير والجوانب النظرية من الفكر الإنساني، وغالباً السبب في اختياره هو عدم وجود تجارب علمية لتحليل هذه الجوانب، وتشكل الابحاث العلمية المرجعية الوحيدة للمؤلّف ويبقى الجانب الفكري محدوداً للغاية. رغم ذلك، الكتاب جميل ويستحق القراءة
Profile Image for الشناوي محمد جبر.
1,207 reviews275 followers
July 22, 2019
عبر منظار اللغة.. كيف يبدو العالم مختلفا بلغات مختلفة؟
غاي دويتشر
عالم المعرفة
كتاب ممتاز جدا أثار فكرة قوية وعرض الخلافات الكثيرة حول مدي صدقها من عدمه. الفكرة تقول أن اللغة عبارة عن منظار يري الإنسان العالم من خلاله وأن تغير اللغة قد يغير الشكل الذي يفكر به الإنسان والطريقة التي يري بها العالم.
قديما اعتقد البعض أن وجود فعل المستقبل، هو ما يمنحنا أملا في المستقبل وينقذنا من العدمية، بل من الانتحار الجماعي. فيقول ستاينر: "لو كانت تصاريف أفعالنا أكثر هشاشة لما استطعنا الاستمرار في الحياة". (ولا بد أنه قد من عليه بوحي نبوئي، فالعشرات من اللغات التي تفتقد تصريف فعل المستقبل آخذة في الانقراض).
لكن هل فعلا تقود اللغات المختلفة ناطقيها إلي إدراكات مختلفة؟ وهل تعتبر لغتنا المعينة العدسة التي نري العالم من خلالها؟ هذا هو السؤال الأساسي الذي يحاول المؤلف تقديم أدلة عليه إيجابا أو سلبا. مناقشات طويلة استمرت لقرابة قرن بين العلماء للإجابة عن هذا السؤال.
هل تقود اللغات المختلفة ناطقيها نحو أفكار وتصورات مختلفة؟ يجيب معظم الباحثين الجادين عن جميع هذه التساؤلات بالنفي القاطع. فالرأي الشائع بين اللغويين المعاصرين هو أن اللغة أساسا فطرية، وبمعني آخر، إن أساسيات اللغة مطبوعة في جيناتنا، وهي متشابهة عند جميع أصناف الجنس البشري
اهتم الكاتب بجمع أدلة حول صدق الرؤية للغات المختلفة بأنها تقود الفكر في اتجاهات مختلفة، يري الكاتب أن الألوان كي نراها بوضوح فلابد من وجود المعجم اللغوي الذي يساند المعجم البصري كي تتم رؤية اللون.
قدم الكاتب نمازج لثقافات اختلفت فيها رؤية الألوان عن الرؤية التي نراها الآن. فاللون الأزرق مثلا كان آخر الألوان التي أضافها الناس لمعجم اللغات، ويعتبر آخر الألوان التي استطاع الإنسان تمييزها بصريا (حسب هذه الرؤية)، من أهم ما قدمه المؤلف هو معجم ألوان الشاعر هوميروس الذي يعتبر شديد الارتباك قياسا لعبقريته الشاعرية.
قدم الكاتب نمازج كذلك لاختلاف اللغات في تحديد إحداثيات الأماكن حسب اللغات وأثر ذلك علي القدرة المكانية للإنسان حسب لغته، وكذلك الفروق الجنسية في اللغات وأثرها في الثقافة لعامة للناس.
وأخيرا فإن هناك اتفاقا واضحا علي أن أي تأثير للغة الأم علي طريقة تفكيرنا هو تافه ولا يستحق الاهتمام، وأننا في الأساس جميعا نفكر بطريقة واحدة.
الكتاب يثير فكرة الاختلاف بين الناس والأسباب اللا اختيارية في وجودها، ويعطي فكرة حول التنوع البشري في الفكر والسلوك والثقافة ويدفع بشدة نحو احترام هذه الاختلافات.
Profile Image for آلاء الحاجي.
132 reviews146 followers
June 8, 2019
كتابة كتاب علمي عبر طرح أمثلة وقصص للتوصل لفكرة ما، أسلوب جديد ومختلف لكنه جميل.. رغم أن ترجمته أوصلت المعنى جيدًا لكنها أطالت الطريق.. الترجمات دائمًا ما تطيل الطريق!
كتاب في علم اللغة ينتقد بعض مسلمات العلم، ويعيد طرح الأسئلة بطرق أخرى، هل حقًا كل اللغات بنفس الدرجة من التعقيد ولا يمكننا المقارنة؟ ما المعيار؟
هل الشعوب البدائية لغاتها بدائية أيضًا؟ ما تعريف الشعوب البدائية؟ لغة الهنود الحمر تقارب اللغة اللاتينية في صعوبتها! :)
كيف تجرأت اللغات الاستعمارية الحكم على اللغات الأخرى أنها بدائية لأنها لا ترتب الكلمات بطريقة معينة أو لا تحتوي مسميات لأشياء معينة؟ لماذا أصلًا يبتدع شعب ما مسمى لشيء ما لا يستخدمه ولا يستفيد منه وليس من بيئته؟
الصراع على الألوان والاتجاهات بسبب اختلاف المسميات والتصورات و"الحكم على الشيء فرع عن تصوره"..
والسؤال الأهم في الكتاب هل اللغة مرآة لعقلنا وثقافتنا أم عدسة نرى من خلالها؟ من يتحكم بالآخر؟

ما علينا.. الكتاب يوصل للبحث في فلسفة العقل.
Profile Image for Geoffrey Fox.
Author 8 books44 followers
December 14, 2012
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 separate words (as in modern English), and even the number of sounds available to speakers. Current consensus: No language is a prison of thought; the speaker of any language can find a way to express any idea, even if s/he has to invent or borrow new vocabulary for some of it. But some languages oblige the speaker to give information that is optional in other languages. The handiest example is the English pronouns; if I'm speaking of a person, I can't say "it" visited me, I have to let you know whether the person was "he" or "she". If we're speaking Turkish (or any of many other languages with unsexed pronouns), I can leave the sex of the person ambiguous if I choose — or add something if I want to let you know.

The first of the two interesting arguments is about the language of color. As William Gladstone discovered in his monumental study of Homer, there are no color references beyond "black" (meaning dark), "white" or light, and red in the Odyssey or Iliad. (I had had no idea that the politician Gladstone, before becoming PM, had been such an important scholar). The sea or sky are never described as blue, the word sometimes translated as "green" is really much vaguer (could be yellow, or could just mean "ripe"). Later research revealed that no ancient language, or modern language of preliterate simple societies, has a developed vocabulary for all the colors that you or I would see and name and that surround them in their environment. Gladstone and generations of later linguists assumed there was something wrong with primitive and ancient people's color vision. But no: Deutscher reports all the tests that have shown that even people who have no names for many color tones can see them perfectly well if they need to. They don't think of the sky as "blue" because it does not seem to them to be an object, just a vast emptiness, and as people become more aware of different colors blue is always (so far in all the studies) the last to be named, because it just doesn't appear much in their environment (except that empty sky). We today are far more sensitive to colors than our ancestors because of all the colored objects on the market and in our household and on our computer screens etc. For people a few centuries back, distinguishing between bright and dark and red (because of blood, symbolizing life) was quite enough.

The second argument is more amusing though less important: How assigning gender to inanimate objects affects, but only slightly, the way people perceive them. The German "die Brucke" is described as female, graceful, delicate, etc., the Spanish "el puente" as male, big, sturdy, the English "bridge" is simply a thing with no preconception about its delicacy or strength. But all three words refer to the same object. The sexual connotations of dish, spoon, sea, etc. are faint and of little consequence to most speakers in ordinary life, but can add flavor to the poetry in those languages that have not (as in English) lost their genders.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,012 reviews227 followers
November 27, 2016
Deutscher's explanations were long-winded and redundant (and tautological), and his lowbrow jabs at linguistic scholars were off-putting to me. Planning to reading John McWhorter's The Language Hoax soon.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,818 reviews418 followers
October 12, 2017
Thorough, challenging, clearly written & relatively engaging, good science; I learned a lot... but in the end unsatisfying. Turns out the author argues only for potential differences in perceptions of:
1. space (if your MT is Guugu Yimithrr you're extremely unlikely to get lost or lose your car in a parking garage), 2. gender (if you speak a gendered language like German or Spanish you can have more fun with poetry and tv advertising that plays on the associations of, for example, a male pine tree and a female palm), and 3. color (if you're Homer, you'll speak almost entirely of black, white, and red, meaning a "wine-dark sea" almost literally).

Of course he does call for more research, outlining some specific issues that need to be checked and suggesting ideas for experiments.

Color insert of key charts, a few line drawings, notes, bibliography, index, and an appendix of the science of seeing color w/ retina + brain (which I skipped, having read last year as much as I could manage of that topic). Notably, the MT of the author is Hebrew.

3/5 stars, rounded down because I'm disappointed that the title promises (imo) more than it delivers. However, I will consider more by the author.

Book darts:

Lightly sprinkled wit, including: "In their pronouncements on language, culture, and thought, it seems the big thinkers in their grandes oeuvres have not always risen much above little thinkers over their hors d'oeuvre."

And: "But ye readers of posterity, forgive us our ignorances, as we forgive those who were ignorant before us."

Calls Whorf "the most notorious of con men." Also explains that "the statement that 'all languages are equally complex' makes about as much sense as the assertion that 'all languages are equally cornflakes.'"

From the intro: "The aspects of culture that will be explored here are those where culture masquerades as human nature."

"The mark of an exceptional mind is its ability to question the self-evident."

Darwin "actually assigned the Lamarckian model a[n ancillary] role in evolution... believed that injuries and mutilations could be inherited." (Indeed... read the extended context.)

"Academics don't make careers by agreeing with one another."

Franz Boas taught us that grammar "determines those aspects of each experience that must be expressed." (If I say "I had dinner with a neighbor" I'm telling you that it happened in the past. Chinese would not have to specify the time. German, or French, or others would enforce an admission of the neighbor's gender.) "Such habits of speech can eventually settle into habits of mind with consequences for memory, or perception, or associations, or even practical skills."

The Matses' language enforces that the speaker describing something that happened use one of three past tenses that reveal the time distant, *and* reveal *how* she knows it happened *and* how long ago she learned/ discovered/ guessed that it happened. I think that politics (national, local, or 'office') and other discourse would be enhanced if dominant languages had at least some of this complexity.

Kangaroo does not mean I don't understand. It means a particular type of large grey kangaroo. (Read the book for context or look it up.)

Profile Image for رابعة الدلالي.
157 reviews177 followers
November 18, 2015
و أنا أقرأ الكتاب كنت أظنني سأكتب مراجعتي له بالإنجليزية بما أنه كتب في الأصل إنجليزيا ... و لكنني لم أشعر ولو لوهلة أن الترجمة ترجمة لإتقانها الشديد ... نسختي هي من سلسلة كتب عالم المعرفة بترجمة حنان عبد المحسن مظفر ... و لجودة الترجمة و روعتها وجدتني أكتب بالعربية حتى لا أهضم حقها ..

نمر الآن لمحتوى الكتاب و الذي يناقش علاقة اللغة بالثقافة و جدلية عكس كل واحدة للأخرى ... الممتاز في الكتاب أنه سار عبر النظريات المختلفة و الآراء المتعارضة مستخلصا منها كلها ما يعينه على حل لغز اللغة ... ليبقى السؤال في النهاية مفتوحا هل حقا تعتبر اللغة منظارا لعوالمنا ؟؟؟

و لكن امتياز الكتاب لا يكمن فحسب في الكم الهائل للأطروحات التي تدور حول هذا الموضوع بل تتجلى فردانيته في أسلوب الكاتب الساخر المضحك و الأهم في حديثه عن أليس في بلاد العجائب ... كتابي المفضل...
Profile Image for Christa.
6 reviews
May 25, 2012
Why say in 2 pages what you can say in 200? Some interesting ideas, but overall Deutscher goes on and on and on and on.. I'd skip everything but chapters 5-6.
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