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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, 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.

Published: Macmillan Publishers on
ISBN: 9781429970112
List price: $9.99
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Awesome little book. I'm not particularly interested in language as a subject, but this book touches on things like culture and perception as well as past research escapades. It's written in a very entertaining and engaging style too, which helps when you're digesting a lot of information.

I certainly didn't expect it to be as funny as it is. At one point Deutscher is talking about some dude's paper which tries to link philosophical tradition to grammar by attributing thought to syntax, and Deutscher mocks it thus: 'It might. It might also be attributable to the irregular shape of hot cross buns'. /

Seriously, he actually uses hot cross buns to mock and then adds something about hot cross buns not really being irregular (even if the theory is pants). It is a very interesting book, more so if you're not a linguist because I suspect you'd probably already know about a lot of what he's talking about, especially the bits about early Western research into language and the way it unsurprisingly focused on English as something complex and developed and all other languages as examples of the primitive gruntings of brown ape peoples. Me laugh very hard.

It almost reads like a little mystery in fact, and I do a love good whodunnit and how they dunnit and what they found at the end of doing it. Good read.more
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 technical linguist jargon.

A well written, well researched book I encourage those who want to understand more about language and the human mind to give it a try.more
This book is so enjoyable - funny and charmingly written. Lots of interesting facts about languages and the differences between them.more
The author is very entertaining and makes a potentially dry subject very juicy. Not just for linguists! I have studied a number of "foreign" languages, and I could relate to much of what he said about color identification in different languages, and languages that force you to refer to everything as male-female and/or neuter. Occasionally I got bored when he went into a lot of detail about the scientific studies of how people of different language backgrounds discern color, but otherwise I found it totally fascinating.more
Does the language you speak affect the way you think? That´s what I call an intriguing and challenging premise for a book about languages and culture. Guy Deutcher hasn´t written a page turner, but it is hard not share his enthusiasm for his subject, although he at times uses a lot of pages to reach his conclusions. Along the way, however, I have learned a lot about languages that I didn´t know, about different unknown cultures, about Homer and The Ilyad, about colour perception, about the brain and what we don´t know about its workings, etc. etc. This book intrigued and challenged me, yes, but not necessesarily for the reasons the author primarily intended. But who cares - I enjoyed the ride.more
An interesting look at how the words and how in different ways they shape some of our experience of the world. He mostly talks about colour and how the words for colour have developed over the years and without some of those words you had to work around it to describe things. This made a lot of sense to me as in Irish there are two words for red and two for green, you can insult a red-head by describing their hair colour as Dearg or artificial red, a subtility that is lost in English. In all honesty I would like to see (if there is any) the research about the Irish and how they have adapted English for their use.It's an interesting book, well written and with a wry look at how the research is still in it's infancy and how his own experiences have influenced him. Not a book I thought I would find as easy to read as I did!more
A well researched and delightfully funny book about language. Lots of it is about colour and colour names from Homer and Gladstone to Russian blue. I don't think Deutscher is interested in colour, it's just the best and most well researched aspect of language he can use but he explains Homer's violet sheep.more
This book deals mainly with the expression of colour and physical orientation in various languages and whether the perception, too, of these varies too for native speakers. Not super-easy, but highly interesting. I have now finally understood why Homer's sea was 'wine-red'. I still wonder, though, whether native speakers of languages with a subjonctif/conjunctivus view the world differently - and if so, how. Would look forward to another book by Guy Deutscher on this topic.more
In Through the Language Glass, Guy Deutscher aims to show that the language with which one is raised has a definite affect on the way a person perceives and interprets their universe. That being the case, it may come as some surprise that he spends a large portion of the book refuting theories that one's native language affects there perception of their universe. He also argues against many of what he describes as the basic assumptions of linguistics; the most predominate being that all languages are equally complex. In a rigorous analysis of theories and data past and present, Deutscher attempts to prove that language defines not just how we talk, but how we think. Through the Language Glass focuses on three areas of language: color, gender, and orientation. Before one assumes that this is a linguistic racial socio-sexual analysis, let it be stated that he means the naming of colors, the gendered classification of nouns, and manners of stating the positions of things in space. Color is his biggest issue, and begins back with William E. Gladstone and his expansive Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age. Deutscher points out that, buried deep in Gladstone's third volume, is a chapter regarding the severe lack of color terms in Homer. Gladstone theorized that his was due to the lack of a full set of color-detecting cones in the eyes of classical man, thereby making them partially colorblind. Though Gladstone was wrong in theory, his observations were correct, serving as a jumping off point as Deutscher covers the almost-forgotten research that suggests that not only are color names arbitrary, but that the perception of color varies from language to language. Along the way, he debunks numerous theories that would otherwise support his hypothesis and explores a handful of languages which operate in vastly different ways from any European tongue. He puts the same critical eye on gender and orientation, though at much less length. Indeed, the chapters on color fill almost half of the book, and give him some of his best evidence. Deutscher is intensely critical, and for good reason. His hypothesis is very unpopular among linguists, in large part because many of his predecessors proposing similar ideas were outright wrong. He has to both save the reputation and prove his point at the same time, and this he does rather deftly. He is equally firm with the science behind said evidence, pointing out the flaws in every experiment and limitations in every data set. Indeed, he spends so much time on criticism, it takes till nearly the last chapter to actually start stating his argument. Surprisingly, however, it does not come off as rushed or ill-structured. Instead, he outright states that this work is very much the faulty, short-sighted foundation on which the research of the future will be built. He is simply putting together data that suggest a much deeper and nuanced correlation between language and perception than it is currently possible to test. His tone can, in the beginning, sound almost pompous, but a with an open mind one realizes that he is writing with a biting, self-deprecating wit that makes Through the Language Glass not just readable, but funny. Deutscher still has a lot of work to do, but this latest endeavor is strong, convincing, and well worth more study. This book is an excellent piece of scholarship for both the academic and the popular reader with a curiosity on how our cultures, and our brains, work.more
An interesting and well-written book, but one that disappointed me compared to the author's previous work, "The Unfolding of Language". That, for me, was a truly mind- bending book, which changed my beliefs about how language evolved. "Through the Language Glass" sounds equally wide-ranging -- the blurb on the American edition says adds as a subtitle "Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages". As it happens, the British edition has a more accurate subtitle "How Words Color Your World." The first half of the book is mostly about color, and the words we use for color. In the nineteenth century, scholars (led by British PM Gladstone) began to address the fact that some very important historical languages, including Greek, Hebrew and Sanskrit, did not use nearly as many color words as do modern European languages. Later researchers showed that many non-European languages shared this trait. The book describes how this study proceeded, what conclusions it reached, and what seems to Deutscher the best explanation. This part of the book, about 120 pages long, is almost as interesting and just as well written as "Unfolding", though it clearly is a work on a smaller canvas. I would give this section five stars.The second half of the book examines other areas in which language and culture have interacted -- complexity, gender, and physical orientation. The discussion of complexity is interesting, but very brief. The section on physical orientation strikes me more as a curiosity than something with real importance in the innate/cultural debate. And the section on gender reports a series of complex experiments that, it seems to me, yield very thin results. I would have to give the second half of the book three stars.Adding it up, this book is well worth the time and attention of anyone interested in linguistics -- and, for the benefit of non- professionals, gracefully written. It's not as satisfying as the earlier work, but I still look forward to the next.more
Read all 13 reviews

Reviews

Awesome little book. I'm not particularly interested in language as a subject, but this book touches on things like culture and perception as well as past research escapades. It's written in a very entertaining and engaging style too, which helps when you're digesting a lot of information.

I certainly didn't expect it to be as funny as it is. At one point Deutscher is talking about some dude's paper which tries to link philosophical tradition to grammar by attributing thought to syntax, and Deutscher mocks it thus: 'It might. It might also be attributable to the irregular shape of hot cross buns'. /

Seriously, he actually uses hot cross buns to mock and then adds something about hot cross buns not really being irregular (even if the theory is pants). It is a very interesting book, more so if you're not a linguist because I suspect you'd probably already know about a lot of what he's talking about, especially the bits about early Western research into language and the way it unsurprisingly focused on English as something complex and developed and all other languages as examples of the primitive gruntings of brown ape peoples. Me laugh very hard.

It almost reads like a little mystery in fact, and I do a love good whodunnit and how they dunnit and what they found at the end of doing it. Good read.more
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 technical linguist jargon.

A well written, well researched book I encourage those who want to understand more about language and the human mind to give it a try.more
This book is so enjoyable - funny and charmingly written. Lots of interesting facts about languages and the differences between them.more
The author is very entertaining and makes a potentially dry subject very juicy. Not just for linguists! I have studied a number of "foreign" languages, and I could relate to much of what he said about color identification in different languages, and languages that force you to refer to everything as male-female and/or neuter. Occasionally I got bored when he went into a lot of detail about the scientific studies of how people of different language backgrounds discern color, but otherwise I found it totally fascinating.more
Does the language you speak affect the way you think? That´s what I call an intriguing and challenging premise for a book about languages and culture. Guy Deutcher hasn´t written a page turner, but it is hard not share his enthusiasm for his subject, although he at times uses a lot of pages to reach his conclusions. Along the way, however, I have learned a lot about languages that I didn´t know, about different unknown cultures, about Homer and The Ilyad, about colour perception, about the brain and what we don´t know about its workings, etc. etc. This book intrigued and challenged me, yes, but not necessesarily for the reasons the author primarily intended. But who cares - I enjoyed the ride.more
An interesting look at how the words and how in different ways they shape some of our experience of the world. He mostly talks about colour and how the words for colour have developed over the years and without some of those words you had to work around it to describe things. This made a lot of sense to me as in Irish there are two words for red and two for green, you can insult a red-head by describing their hair colour as Dearg or artificial red, a subtility that is lost in English. In all honesty I would like to see (if there is any) the research about the Irish and how they have adapted English for their use.It's an interesting book, well written and with a wry look at how the research is still in it's infancy and how his own experiences have influenced him. Not a book I thought I would find as easy to read as I did!more
A well researched and delightfully funny book about language. Lots of it is about colour and colour names from Homer and Gladstone to Russian blue. I don't think Deutscher is interested in colour, it's just the best and most well researched aspect of language he can use but he explains Homer's violet sheep.more
This book deals mainly with the expression of colour and physical orientation in various languages and whether the perception, too, of these varies too for native speakers. Not super-easy, but highly interesting. I have now finally understood why Homer's sea was 'wine-red'. I still wonder, though, whether native speakers of languages with a subjonctif/conjunctivus view the world differently - and if so, how. Would look forward to another book by Guy Deutscher on this topic.more
In Through the Language Glass, Guy Deutscher aims to show that the language with which one is raised has a definite affect on the way a person perceives and interprets their universe. That being the case, it may come as some surprise that he spends a large portion of the book refuting theories that one's native language affects there perception of their universe. He also argues against many of what he describes as the basic assumptions of linguistics; the most predominate being that all languages are equally complex. In a rigorous analysis of theories and data past and present, Deutscher attempts to prove that language defines not just how we talk, but how we think. Through the Language Glass focuses on three areas of language: color, gender, and orientation. Before one assumes that this is a linguistic racial socio-sexual analysis, let it be stated that he means the naming of colors, the gendered classification of nouns, and manners of stating the positions of things in space. Color is his biggest issue, and begins back with William E. Gladstone and his expansive Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age. Deutscher points out that, buried deep in Gladstone's third volume, is a chapter regarding the severe lack of color terms in Homer. Gladstone theorized that his was due to the lack of a full set of color-detecting cones in the eyes of classical man, thereby making them partially colorblind. Though Gladstone was wrong in theory, his observations were correct, serving as a jumping off point as Deutscher covers the almost-forgotten research that suggests that not only are color names arbitrary, but that the perception of color varies from language to language. Along the way, he debunks numerous theories that would otherwise support his hypothesis and explores a handful of languages which operate in vastly different ways from any European tongue. He puts the same critical eye on gender and orientation, though at much less length. Indeed, the chapters on color fill almost half of the book, and give him some of his best evidence. Deutscher is intensely critical, and for good reason. His hypothesis is very unpopular among linguists, in large part because many of his predecessors proposing similar ideas were outright wrong. He has to both save the reputation and prove his point at the same time, and this he does rather deftly. He is equally firm with the science behind said evidence, pointing out the flaws in every experiment and limitations in every data set. Indeed, he spends so much time on criticism, it takes till nearly the last chapter to actually start stating his argument. Surprisingly, however, it does not come off as rushed or ill-structured. Instead, he outright states that this work is very much the faulty, short-sighted foundation on which the research of the future will be built. He is simply putting together data that suggest a much deeper and nuanced correlation between language and perception than it is currently possible to test. His tone can, in the beginning, sound almost pompous, but a with an open mind one realizes that he is writing with a biting, self-deprecating wit that makes Through the Language Glass not just readable, but funny. Deutscher still has a lot of work to do, but this latest endeavor is strong, convincing, and well worth more study. This book is an excellent piece of scholarship for both the academic and the popular reader with a curiosity on how our cultures, and our brains, work.more
An interesting and well-written book, but one that disappointed me compared to the author's previous work, "The Unfolding of Language". That, for me, was a truly mind- bending book, which changed my beliefs about how language evolved. "Through the Language Glass" sounds equally wide-ranging -- the blurb on the American edition says adds as a subtitle "Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages". As it happens, the British edition has a more accurate subtitle "How Words Color Your World." The first half of the book is mostly about color, and the words we use for color. In the nineteenth century, scholars (led by British PM Gladstone) began to address the fact that some very important historical languages, including Greek, Hebrew and Sanskrit, did not use nearly as many color words as do modern European languages. Later researchers showed that many non-European languages shared this trait. The book describes how this study proceeded, what conclusions it reached, and what seems to Deutscher the best explanation. This part of the book, about 120 pages long, is almost as interesting and just as well written as "Unfolding", though it clearly is a work on a smaller canvas. I would give this section five stars.The second half of the book examines other areas in which language and culture have interacted -- complexity, gender, and physical orientation. The discussion of complexity is interesting, but very brief. The section on physical orientation strikes me more as a curiosity than something with real importance in the innate/cultural debate. And the section on gender reports a series of complex experiments that, it seems to me, yield very thin results. I would have to give the second half of the book three stars.Adding it up, this book is well worth the time and attention of anyone interested in linguistics -- and, for the benefit of non- professionals, gracefully written. It's not as satisfying as the earlier work, but I still look forward to the next.more
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