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Through the Language Glass: Why the World…

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other… (édition 2011)

par Guy Deutscher (Auteur)

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9903615,369 (3.81)42
A masterpiece of linguistics scholarship, at once erudite and entertaining, confronts the thorny question of how--and whether--culture shapes language and language, culture.
Titre:Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages
Auteurs:Guy Deutscher (Auteur)
Info:Picador (2011), Edition: First, 320 pages
Collections:Votre bibliothèque

Détails de l'œuvre

Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages by Deutscher, Guy (2011) par Guy Deutscher

  1. 40
    The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature par Steven Pinker (petterw)
  2. 10
    What Language Is: And What It Isn't and What It Could Be! par John McWhorter (amyblue)
  3. 00
    La naissance de la conscience dans l'effondrement de l'esprit par Julian Jaynes (chmod007)
    chmod007: The first few chapters of Through The Language Glass talk about color as a cultural construct, drawing upon 19th century inquiries into the works of Homer and his seeming indifference to the finer hues of the spectrum. The beginning of TOOCITBOTBM starts with a similar exploration of ancient conceptions (or lack thereof) of consciousness, supported by linguistic evidence.… (plus d'informations)

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» Voir aussi les 42 mentions

Affichage de 1-5 de 36 (suivant | tout afficher)
Was Homer colorblind? With that question linguist Guy Deutscher begins his fascinating 2010 book “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.”

That question perplexed scientists for many years, In the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer describes the sea as "wine-looking," the same description he assigns to oxen. And he describes honey as green. But it wasn't just Homer. The Old Testament, in the original Hebrew, describes gold as being green. So was everyone colorblind back then?

The explanation, says Deutscher, is not that Homer and other ancient writers were colorblind but that they simply did not have words for all the colors. Even now languages used by people in isolated parts of the world often do not have words for blue and yellow. Every language has a word for red, he writes. Blood is red. Red dye is relatively easy to make. Red is an important color to everyone. Green, too, is an important color because so much of the natural world is green. The sky is blue, but not much else. Nobody in those cultures had blue eyes. And just as English-speaking people may describe both navy blue and baby blue as blue, so some languages have used the word green to cover a broad range of the color spectrum, including what we would call yellow or gold.

Although still a controversial idea, the author argues in the second half of his book that our language can affect how we think. Those who speak languages, such as Spanish and Italian, that assign a gender to each word — something English did until the 11th century — tend to give masculine or feminine characteristics to inanimate objects, studies suggest.

Deutscher, who is originally from Australia, discusses one nearly extinct Aborigine language, one of several found in the world, that has no words for left or right. Instead they use compass directions to reference everything, such as their north hand (which becomes their south hand when they turn around) or the jug on the east side of the table. Even when taken to a strange place by a roundabout way, they somehow know instantly in which direction everything is. And they can remember these directions when they share memories later. Yet when these people learn English, they have no trouble learning left and right. In their own language, however, they always think in terms of directions.

The research Deutscher discusses may not be conclusive, but it is suggestive. The language we speak may influence how we view the world. If we had no word for blue, what color would a clear sky be? ( )
1 voter hardlyhardy | Nov 9, 2020 |
Interesting enough, but ultimately underwhelming. I struggled to finish it. ( )
  the_best_words | Nov 1, 2020 |
I'm not surprised that I found this book fascinating, because I find language fascinating. And I like Deutscher's writing style.
The idea that language influences thought is apparently kind of taboo nowadays in linguistic circles (or at least it was when this book was published), largely because of some dudes named Sapir and Whorf who took it to quite an extreme but didn't really have any good evidence to support their ideas (for example, that someone whose language doesn't contain a future tense wouldn't be able to understand the concept of "the future"). But it's not entirely wrong - Deutscher gives examples of three areas where language has been shown to influence thinking to a measurable extent.

If your language uses cardinal directions only, (north-south-east-west instead of left or right, in front of, or behind), you will always know where north is, and you will perform differently on certain tasks than someone who speaks an egocentric language. Say for example you were standing in front of a table with some objects on it. You're then asked to turn around and place the objects in the same order on a table behind you, on the opposite wall of the room. People who speak these two different types of languages would put the objects in the opposite order! If you speak an egocentric language, you'll place the objects that were to the left of you at table 1 to the left of you on table 2. If you speak a cardinal direction language, you'll put the objects on the north side of table 1 on the north side of table 2. Neither answer is wrong, but if you grew up speaking English which uses egocentric directions (not exclusively, obviously, but mainly for small-scale situations), you'd probably be baffled by someone who placed the objects in the opposite order from you. It wouldn't even occur to me how they were doing this task because when I'm inside a building I almost never know which direction is north.

Language can also have an effect on colour perception - for example, of two pairs of colours that are an equal number of shades apart, we view as further apart the ones that cross a linguistic colour barrier. For example, if you're an English speaker, you'd perceive a shade of green and blue as further apart than two shades of blue, even if the blues were actually further apart on the colour spectrum. If you did the same experiment with a Russian speaker, you'd get a different result because Russian has two separate words for dark blue and light blue.

Lastly, if the language you speak has gendered words in it, that will affect your assumptions and associations with the words. In English, which doesn't have any gendered words, the only gendered assumptions we have are cultural (for example, associating "nurse" with "female" and "doctor" with "male" - these have nothing to do with the actual words but with how we've been socialized). If you speak a language like French or Spanish with gendered nouns, it can have an effect on your memory. For example, it was easier for Spanish speakers to remember a female name associated with an apple than a male one, because the word for apple in Spanish is feminine.

Basically the take-away of this book is that it's less interesting what a language allows you to say than what a language requires you to say. In English, we're forced to tell our listeners when something happens because tense is built in to our verbs. I am, I was, I will be. I can't express the concept of me being without indicating when I am being! There are languages in which these aren't linked though, where I could say that I am and listeners wouldn't automatically know when I was or will be or even if I currently am! Of course you could express that if you wanted, but it's not required.

You should definitely read this book if you finished reading my review. It goes into the history of linguistic relativism, which I found really interesting, and a bunch about colour perception (the less relevant parts to language are relegated to an appendix) which I also think is interesting. Plus different experiments that were designed to help tease language from culture which is really hard to do! ( )
  katebrarian | Jul 28, 2020 |
Very, very readable, the kind of book you'll be discussing with friends after putting it down. The color chapters are by far the strongest (first and last). He gives a careful dissecting of Whorfianism and showing why he's not defending that (a good debate strategy, to be sure); however, other works argue that the evidence presented therein really does have cause and effect backwards (as far as language and thought).

I would strongly recommend reading this in conjunction with Christine Kennealy's "The First Word" and Steven Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought," and drawing your own conclusions, assuming of course you're a linguistics nerd and have a lot of time on your hands. This, you'll get through fairly quickly: Pinker especially, though, will take you some chewing. ( )
  charlyk | Nov 15, 2019 |
His charming writing style kept me going, but I think this could have been condensed into a long essay without losing any substance. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
Affichage de 1-5 de 36 (suivant | tout afficher)
Deutscher starts with the puzzling fact that many languages lack words for what (to English speakers) seem to be basic colors. For anyone interested in the development of ideas, Deutscher’s first four chapters make fascinating reading. Did you know that the British statesman William Gladstone was also an accomplished Greek scholar who, noting among other things the surprising absence of any term for “blue” in classical Greek texts, theorized that full-color vision had not yet developed in humans when those texts were composed? Or that a little-known 19th-century philologist named Lazarus Geiger made profound and surprising discoveries about how languages in general divide up the color spectrum, only to have his discoveries ignored and forgotten and then rediscovered a century later?
Deutscher argues that the key to differences between languages is a contained in a maxim of the linguist Roman Jakobson: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” As an example, he quotes the English statement, “I spent last night with a neighbour”, in which we may keep private whether the person was male or female.

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Nom de l'auteur(e)RôleType d'auteurŒuvre ?Statut
Guy Deutscherauteur(e) principal(e)toutes les éditionscalculé
Pfeiffer, MartinÜbersetzerauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé

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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.

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