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A Masterpiece Of Linguistics Scholarship, At Once Erudite And Entertaining, Confronts The Thorny Question Of How And Whether Culture Shapes Language And Language, CultureLinguistics 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 , 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


10 thoughts on “Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World?

  1. says:

    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 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 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 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.


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    256 173 257 17 2016


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    BLURBA 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 , 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.COMMENTSThis book must be read in context of the global languages There are 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 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 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 view spoiler 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 Since Homer s similes are so rich in the use of all sensible imagery, says Gladstone, we might have expected to find color a frequent and prominent ingredient in them And yet his poppies may have their head aslant, laden with seed and with the rain of spring, but there is never so much as a hint of scarlet His spring flowers may be a multitude in the field, but their color is not revealed His 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 Gladstone s fourth point is the vast predominance of the most crude and elemental forms of color black and white over every other He counts that Homer uses the adjective melas black about 170 times in the poems, and this does not even include instances of the corresponding verb to grow black, as when the sea is described as blackening beneath the ripple of the West Wind that is newly risen Words meaning white appear around 100 times In contrast to this abundance, the word eruthros red appears thirteen times, xanthos yellow is hardly found ten times, ioeis violet six times, and other colors even less often Finally, Gladstone rummages through the Homeric poems in search of what is not there and discovers that even some of the elementary primary colors, which, as he puts it, have been determined for us by Nature, make no appearance at all Most striking is the lack of any word that could be taken to mean blue The word kuaneos, which in later stages of Greek meant blue, does make an appearance in the poems, but it must have just meant dark for Homer, because he uses it for neither the sky nor the sea, only to describe the eyebrows of Zeus, the hair of Hector, or a dark cloud Green is hardly mentioned either, for the word chl ros is used mostly for non green things, and yet there is no other word in the poems that can be supposed to represent this commonest of colors And there doesn t seem to be anything equivalent to our orange or pink in Homer s entire color palette 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 hide spoiler


  4. says:

    from the BrainyQuote Facebook pageNature 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 chl ros 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 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 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 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.


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    l esprit mind 3 we 19 ioeis 1867 1875 266 13 19 800 18 1878 62 30 1898 21 1915 15 el der o A o A 24 1983 600 3 egocentic .


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    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 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


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    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 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.


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    fMRI unfolding language .


  9. says:

    I can understand people who feel that Through the Language Glass didn t quite fulfill its promise The subtitle might be 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 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.


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    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, soOf 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.