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Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages [Paperback]

Guy Deutscher
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Feb 2011

"Guy Deutscher is that rare beast, an academic who talks good sense about linguistics... he argues in a playful and provocative way, that our mother tongue does indeed affect how we think and, just as important, how we perceive the world." Observer

*Does language reflect the culture of a society?

*Is our mother-tongue a lens through which we perceive the world?

*Can different languages lead their speakers to different thoughts?

In Through the Language Glass, acclaimed author Guy Deutscher will convince you that, contrary to the fashionable academic consensus of today, the answer to all these questions is - yes. A delightful amalgam of cultural history and popular science, this book explores some of the most fascinating and controversial questions about language, culture and the human mind.

Frequently Bought Together

Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages + The Unfolding Of Language + The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind (Penguin Science)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow (3 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099505576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099505570
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Jaw-droppingly wonderful ... A marvellous and surprising book which left me breathless and dizzy with delight. The ironic, playful tone at the beginning gradates into something serious that is never pompous, intellectually and historically complex and yet always pellucidly laid out. Plus I learned the word plaidoyer which I shall do my utmost to use every day" (Stephen Fry)

"Fabulously interesting ... a remarkably rich, provocative and intelligent work of pop science" (Sunday Times)

"Brilliant [and] beautifully written" (Financial Times)

"So robustly researched and wonderfully told that it is hard to put down" (New Scientist)

"A delight to read" (Spectator)

Book Description

A brilliant and provocative exploration of how the cultures we live in affect the languages we speak and how we think of the world around us.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
117 of 120 people found the following review helpful
By Peter Biddlecombe TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
This book takes a couple of old ideas about language that seem ludicrous and discredited, and shows that there is something in them. If you have read Deutscher's "Unfolding of Language", the first thing to know about this book is that it's much easier to understand - I read it all in one sitting, which I can't imagine doing with the earlier book because of the fairly hard going when discussing technicalities of grammar.

One issue seems rather dry and academic, but turns out to be anything but - names for colours and their development over time, starting with a book about Homer, by Gladstone (yes, the Victorian PM), which drew conclusions about colour perception by the Ancient Greeks from descriptions like "wine-dark sea". Similar discredited notions are ideas like speakers of languages with complex sets of tenses having a more highly-developed notion of time than those who use fewer tenses or none at all. Deutscher shows how the desire to get rid of silly nonsense has resulted in some equally silly nonsense, like the tenet that all languages are "equally complex" whether they belong to an 'advanced' Western civilisation or a 'primitive' aboriginal group. Far more acceptable of course than the notion that the 'primitive' language reflects racial inferiority, but still nonsense, because we have no way of measuring how complex a language is - we may as well say that all languages are equally green.

The other dodgy old notion is that your mother tongue affects the way you think. Deutscher shows that in a few ways, it actually does.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Through the Language Glass Guy Deutscher 2010

The author has an elegant classical writing style and I bought the book at his Wandsworth Arts Festival presentation last autumn.

Deutscher gives a fascinating introductory tour d'horizon of linguistics and its history. He shows how views have veered from stressing the commonality of languages to Whorf's ideas on different languages defining radically different perceptions of reality in different tribes and peoples.

But the author's style is more that of a populariser rather than a scientist, and the book alludes to studies and evidence rather than originating anything new. In my view, his conclusions are rather tame and (as he would no doubt admit) need further evidential backing.

Deutscher's bold hypothesis is that in important ways language can affect not just how we describe the world, but how we actually perceive it (although he rejects Whorf's extreme views.) If this were the case in terms of eg major intellectual and cognitive concepts then it would be revolutionary. However his conclusions in three areas seem rather more marginal and perhaps disappointing given the build-up:-

- Colour perception Gladstone (yes the 19th c. P.M.) made a study in which he claimed the classical Greeks described the sea or sky as black or wine coloured. Deutscher claims modern studies show differences in colour perception in different nationalities, but the quoted examples merely show subtle differences in analysing shades of green, blue and grey ie. close neighbours on the colour spectrum . But this is hardly the same as someone describing a red apple as green and it could be pointed out that there are sometimes arguments within a language as to how to describe a colour in say, a specific picture.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Through Wine-Tinted Glasses 3 Sep 2010
By takingadayoff TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
In some cultures, there is a single word that denotes both blue and green. The people in these cultures can see the difference between the colors as well as anyone else, but they don't consider blue and green different colors, just different shades of the same color. In Russian, there is a word for dark blue and another word for sky blue. We who did not grow up speaking Russian do not confuse dark blue and light blue any more than Russians do, even if we call them both "blue."

How a language deals with colors is just one of the ways that linguist Guy Deutscher examines the interplay between language and thought. For many years, it was THE controversy in linguistic circles. But even if the phrases "Sapir-Whorf" and "Chomskian grammar" do not make you see red or any other color, you will find Deutscher's investigations into how language affects thought and vice versa, fascinating and enlightening.

He discusses why, in the Iliad, Homer described both the sea and oxen as being "wine-colored." He describes a society in which the people use points of the compass to describe locations rather than "left" and "right," and how that affects their sense of place.

Through the Language Glass had me seriously questioning what I thought I knew about language. Deutscher challenges conventional linguistic theories and seems to have a great time doing it. Through the Language Glass is the kind of book that you want to share with everyone and find out what they think about it, too. Is Deutscher crazy? Is he brilliant? Both, probably.

Also recommended -- When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge by K. David Harrison, and Harrison's documentary, The Linguists.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fascinating analysis of the nature of language....
Absolutely fascinating analysis of the nature of language. Concentrates mainly on the history of the perception of colour, starting from the fact that Ancient Greece seems to have... Read more
Published 14 days ago by Jane Ennis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Essential reading
Published 2 months ago by Hector
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat verbose
It has to be said that Deutscher uses an awful lot of words on an awful lot of pages to finally provide a couple of examples of where people perceive the world differently... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amsterdamned
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating content, irritating style
In terms of content, this is a fascinating, mind-blowing introduction to the ways in which language may affect our views of the world. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. David D. Bedford
4.0 out of 5 stars reading the book
Conflict Resolution refers to your stress management and problem solving skills. Effective conflict resolution has nine general elements: View Conflict as Positive; Address... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Albert Russo
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing
Some thought-provoking info and discussion here for a langauge-lover who wants to delve a bit deeper into how language has developed across the world. Read more
Published 7 months ago by TMC
5.0 out of 5 stars Really revealing
I really enjoyed this book.
There remains controversy as to whether the language we speak (as a mother tongue), colors our understanding of the World around us. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mr. Roger Eden
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book!
Can the language we speak influence the way we see the world? In other words, can reality change according to the language we use to perceive and describe it? Read more
Published 12 months ago by Alessandra F.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting Discussion
I bought this book in connection with possibly landing a job. I interviewed with a professor in June who mentioned this book. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Ian Elliott
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting!
quite interesting easy read :)

who'da thunk it, the great greek writers of the classics didnt have that great vocabulary for colors - and other interesting tidbits such... Read more
Published 14 months ago by miz wiz
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