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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  5,391 ratings  ·  712 reviews
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 old: 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 issue: all languages are fundamentally the same and the parti
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Picador (first published 2010)
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Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 thin
Jul 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Betsy
This is a fascinating book about how culture shapes language, and how language shapes our view of reality. Guy Deutscher is a linguist, and he separates out in some detail, the facts of this subject from fiction.

Because, there is a lot of "fiction". Much of what we have heard about how language shapes our world-view is false. Nietzsche's line that "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world" is absolutely false. A true statement would be "Languages differ in what they must convey, not
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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

Linguistics has long shied away from claiming any link between a language and the culture of its speakers: too much simplistic (even bigoted) chatter about the romance of Italian and the goose-stepping orderliness of German has made serious thinkers wary of the entire subject. But now, acclaimed linguist Guy Deutscher has
The first foreign language I learned to complete fluency was German - after five years of high school German I spent a year at a German boys' boarding school. At the end of that year I was completely fluent, but noticed an odd phenomenon, that I felt like a slightly different person when I spoke German than when speaking English. Since then I've also learned Spanish to a high degree of fluency, and the same observation holds. In both cases, the main difference that I perceive has to do with humo ...more
Jan Rice
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

--from the BrainyQuote Facebook page

Nature or nurture?

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

Poetic license, scoffed his naysayers, bu
Feb 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Language nerds
Shelves: non-fiction
This is what I call Having a Really Good Time. Yes, I know, but then some people go ice-fishing. For fun. So, if (like me) you are a language geek and have a fairly quiet life, then this might be your idea of a high old time too. Because Guy Deutscher manages that most demanding combination. On one hand, he is an academic linguist, which you might assume would mean he uses phrases like pro-drop parameter or boundary conditions or declarative sentences or funny words like morpheme or evidentialit ...more
Dec 24, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
K.J. Charles
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, an ...more
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can understand people who feel that Through the Language Glass didn't quite fulfill its promise. The subtitle might be more accurately, "does the world look different in other languages?" And the answer is yes, but in a limited way that won't be satisfying to those who want the answer to be an unequivocal yes. People feel that the world is different (for them) in different languages, and even that they are different in other languages, but there just isn't the scientific data to back those fee ...more
Lena Tumasyan
As a native Russian speaker, I always felt different from Americans. I've always wondered if the language i was brought up with altered my thinking in ways Americans weren't. I was hoping to get the answer in this book and I was really disappointed.

The book started out strong, showing how 3 different languages defined "culture" in different ways (French being most romantic and German being most brutal). But then once I started reading the book, it never really delved deeply into the subject of h
Jul 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Betsy by: GR Science & Inquiry Group
I really enjoyed this book, even though, or maybe because, it was not at all what I expected. I was expecting a kind of language survey detailing the ways in which various languages differ from each other that might possibly be related to culture. For example, the rather overplayed number of different words Inuit has for snow. I did not expect a very well written argument against some of the widely accepted tenets of linguistic theory, such as the Chomsky/Pinker belief that language is an inborn ...more
I finished this book, like, two weeks ago, right when my job's special breed of life-consuming crazy was bearing down on me with an animalistic rabidity. Let's see what I remembered about it, aside from the fact that it was generously packed with treats that made my inner word-nerd dance oh-so-whitely with joy.

First of all, the author's first language is Yiddish. Seeing as I know far more native-tongue butchers of English than I do folks who can finesse the language like they're trying to get in
Geoffrey Fox
This digressive examination of whether and, if so, how a speaker's language structures his/her thoughts contains two interesting arguments bundled with amusing anecdotes about odd languages and linguists. Some of the descriptions of non-Western languages, and even of Western languages (English among them) at earlier stages of development, show truly surprising ways of putting together information, such as numbers of tenses, whether person and time of action are included in verb or noun or in sep ...more
Aug 14, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Oct 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 tre
Feb 09, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Oct 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another brilliant work of popular science from linguist Guy Deutscher. "Through the Language Glass" aims to bring the reader up to date on an easy-to-formulate but nearly impossible-to-answer question in linguistics: to what degree does one's language impact one's thought processes?

This exploration centers around a very specific phenomenon, which is that languages differ in their stock of words for colors, and why some languages (like English) have names for all the colors we would commonly plac
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Oh, yes! Fellow linguist's ideas on how languages matter. ...more
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
No one (in his or her right mind) would argue nowadays that the structure of a language limits its speakers’ understanding to those concepts and distinctions that happen to be already part of the linguistic system. (p. 156)

The subtitle makes the focus of this book clear: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. The key word is “Looks,” because Guy Deutscher’s argument is that, under certain circumstances, the language we speak can affect how we interpret the world around us. He is not s
Chris Miller
In college I majored in linguistics with a specialization in cognition, and minored in psychology. My favorite part of this language/brain area of study was linguistic relativity (A.K.A. the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)--although I didn't have time then to do anything but scratch the surface. The premise is that the language(s) you speak affect the way you think/perceive reality, and that the way you think/perceive reality molds the language(s) you speak; creating a self-reinforcing cycle.

It's been
Sep 06, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-lang-lit
Warning for users of black-and-white-only ebook readers. Long stretches of this book are about how we perceive and express colors, which you might not immediately guess from its title and on-line description. It is difficult to understand these portions of the book without consulting the book-end photographic insert of color photographs and color samples. If my old-school black-and-white ebook reader were my only e-method of reading this book, I would have felt greatly cheated by this book. As i ...more
I may be a bit late to the game - this book was published in 2010 when I was mid-degree in Modern Languages and there was a fair deal of hype around this book and Deutscher's hypotheses. His musings about the ungi, unga, susungu of the Bellonese language, leading into a supposition that we as English-speakers in economically developed contexts fail to see the intricacies of these peoples and tongues beyond a limited complexity we came to in our own minds, if we are not academic linguists.

“Ask Jo
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language-studies
In high school I learned that neither matter nor energy could be created nor destroyed. Any girl scout sitting around a campfire would know this not to be true, but it took 30 years later for text books to get on board. Guy Deutscher challenges the parallel linguistics axiom: “The fundamentals of language are coded in our genes and are the same across the human race… All languages share the same universal grammar, the same underlying concepts, same degree of systemic complexity” (p. 6).

Rajaie Al-matrood
This was written just before I finished reading the book:

I'm close to finishing a book named Through The Language Glass, written by Guy Deutscher. Since the book actually deals with linguistics, I Thought it would be academic and not suitable for those not familiar with the field. It turned out, however, that the book is well-explained, simple and actually funny in some parts.
Basically, what the book is talking about is the relationship between the language and the person's pattern of thinking
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, book-club, 2020
I finished reading this yesterday evening and it left me with a big ‚So what?‘ in my head. The title claimed that the book would explain why the world looks different in other languages (sounds interesting doesn’t it?) but besides 3 very specific and narrow hypotheses, that may point in this direction (two of which were already known to me), I am none the wiser.
Communications is what I do for a living so language naturally interests me. Maybe this is why I feel that - given the title - this book
Bryan Alkire
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting enjoyable book. It argues that language can shape our perceptions and views of the world without going so far as to say that languages are indicative of intelligence and the like. It certainly seems a better argument than saying that language has no impact on world view or perception. Perhaps the best summation is that languages can require people to phrase things to be clearly understood in a particular language in ways that might not matter in other languages which have ...more
Pep Bonet
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lingüística
Probably you must be mad at languages to read this book. I couldn't help telling my wife about this and that I had just read and she rolled her eyes wondering how on earth this could be interesting for anybody. But I swear, it is. Lots of words just to discuss two simple things: why do people see colour differently? Was Homer colour-blind? Why does he almost never mention the blue colour in the Odyssey, which happens mostly on the sea? and does the language you speak influence your thought?
The b
A fascinating book on the links between language and culture that sets out to prove that language can impact on the way we think. There is quite a heavy emphasis on colour (some of which is difficult to comprehend as a colourblind person) but there's also sections on spacial orientation and gender.

The book is well written and manages to make what could be very dry become easily accessible without being patronising. There's a few humourous inserts throughout and I never felt overwhelmed with tech
Biblio Curious
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: linguistics
Amazing!!! His writing is so engaging, enlightening, exquisite and even comedic! I must re-read this gem and give it a proper review. The coolest chapter is on Russians, naturally, right? He explains how different language speakers indicate colour categories differently on an artist's spectrum. I started his other book, "The Unfolding of Language." Also a great read.

His writing style is witty, fun and informative a bit similar to David Sacks, David Crystal or Oliver Sacks.
Başar Atıcı
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A wonderful book and a translation triumph for Cemal Yardımcı (Turkish edition)
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Science and Inquiry: * January 2015 - Through the Language Glass 14 92 Feb 06, 2015 06:11AM  

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

Guy Deutscher is the author of Through the Language Glass and The Unfolding of Language. Formerly a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge and of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Languages in the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he is an honorary Research Fellow at the School of Language

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“And if Germans do have systematic minds, this is just as likely to be because their exceedingly erratic mother tongue has exhausted their brains' capacity to cope with any further irregularity” 20 likes
“Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language knows only too dearly that languages can be full of pointless irregularities that increase complexity considerably without contributing much to the ability to express ideas. English, for instance, would have losed none of its expressive power if some of its verbs leaved their irregular past tense behind and becomed regular.” 18 likes
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