Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

Guy Deutscher, Author
Guy Deutscher, Metropolitan, $27.50 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8195-4
Reviewed on: 06/28/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4299-7011-2
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-312-61049-4
Paperback - 309 pages - 978-0-09-950557-0
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This fascinating pop-linguistics study contends that how we talk influences how we think about the world, from the way we give directions to the colors poets see. Drawing on everything from classics to anthropology and brain scans, linguist Deutscher (The Unfolding of Language) abjures the crude notion that language makes Italians frivolous or gives Hopis a mystical disregard for time. Rather, he insists that linguistic conventions subtly alter basic perceptions. The examples he highlights are delightful and thought-provoking: speakers of languages, such as French and German, in which inanimate objects have gender actually associate gendered qualities with objects; speakers of the Australian Guugu Yimithirr language denote spatial relationships by cardinal points—"‘look out for that big ant just north of your foot'"—and therefore develop an internal compass that puts a GPS to shame. The author upsets a few linguistics apple carts, challenging both Noam Chomsky's theory of an innate human grammar and Steven Pinker's view of language as a cognitively neutral system for representing the environment. Deutscher's erudite yet entertaining arguments (and cunning illustrations) usually stick; they make for a fascinating exploration of culture's ability to shape the mind. Photos. (Sept.)
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