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Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour your World Hardcover – 3 Jun 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann; First Edition edition (3 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 043401690X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434016907
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 438,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


""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)

"This fabulously interesting book describes an area of intellectual history replete with brilliant leaps of intuition and crazy dead ends. Guy Deutscher, who combines enthusiasm with scholarly a vigorous and engaging guide to it...a remarkably rich, provocative and intelligent work of pop science." (Sam Leith Sunday Times)

"brilliant... As befits a book about language, this inspiring amalgam of cultural history and science is beautifully written." (Clive Cookson Financial Times)

"so robustly researched and wonderfully told that it is hard to put down...Deutscher...brings together more than a century's worth of captivating characters, incidents and experiments that illuminate the relationship between words and mind" (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

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

120 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Peter Biddlecombe VINE VOICE on 5 Jun. 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 Sept. 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Book Addict on 14 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
This certainly is a decent read - as it should be, written by a languge expert. The author romps through some interesting theories - fast enough for you not to examine too closely the lack of detail and corroboration for what he is proposing. In dealing with the naming of colours - the over reliance on literary sources really does expose Duetscher's weakness. I was thinking 'woad', throughout all the pages where references to the lacking 'blue' descriptor occurred. I recommend readers should read the very small and accessible book 'Colour - Making and using dyes and pigments' by Francois Delamare and Bernard Guinuea (ISBN 0500301026) before tackling Duetscher's book because then you will not be led astray by his eloquent prose. Otherwise, this is a mildly amusing and diverting read for a rainy day.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By EMcD on 3 Feb. 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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