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Through the Language Glass

Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

Guy Deutscher


Through the Language Glass Download image

ISBN10: 0312610491
ISBN13: 9780312610494

Trade Paperback

320 Pages


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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. In Through the Language Glass, acclaimed linguist Guy Deutscher re-opens 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 readers 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 one dips a tea bag into her, demonstrating that language does in fact reflect culture in ways that are anything but trivial. Audacious and field-changing, Through the Language Glass is a classic of intellectual discovery.


Praise for Through the Language Glass

"Deutscher does not merely weave little-known facts into an absorbing story. He also takes account of the vast changes in our perceptions of other races and cultures over the past two centuries."—The New York Times Book Review

"Deutscher confidently asserts that a language influences how its users perceive the world. The book is a thrilling and challenging ride."—The Washington Post

"It is through just such incremental distinctions that science advances and that we move ever closer to understanding the human mind."—The Boston Globe

"A skeptical reappraisal of the popular, and often misunderstood, notion that language influences thought."—The Economist, Best Books of the Year

"A brilliant account of linguistic research over two centuries . . . As befits a book about language, this inspiring amalgam of cultural history and science is beautifully written."—Clive Cookson, Financial Times (UK)

"Fascinating and well written . . . Deutscher's scholarly and eloquent prose made the book an enjoyable read and I learnt lots of great anecdotes along the way."—Alex Bellos, The Guardian (UK)

"A delight to read."—The Spectator (London)

"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 pugnacity, is a vigorous and engaging guide to it . . . A remarkably rich, provocative, and intelligent work."—Sam Leith, The Sunday Times (London)

"Through The Language Glass is 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 . . . He makes a convincing case for the influence of language on thought, and in doing so he reveals as much about the way color words shape our perception as about the way that scientific dogma and fashion can blind us."—Christine Kenneally, New Scientist

"A marvelous and surprising book. The ironic, playful tone at the beginning gradates into something serious that is never pompous, something intellectually and historically complex and yet always pellucidly laid out. It left me breathless and dizzy with delight."—Stephen Fry, presenter of Stephen Fry in America, host of QI, and author of Moab Is My Washpot

"A most entertaining book, easy to read but packed with fascinating detail."—Michael Quinion, World Wide Words

"At once highly readable and thoroughly learned . . . Here is an important and original new history of the struggle to understand how language, culture, and thought are connected."—Joan Bybee, Distinguished Professor of Linguistics, University of New Mexico

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


Language, Culture, and Thought

"There are four tongues worthy of the world's use," says the Talmud: "Greek for song, Latin for war, Syriac for lamentation, and Hebrew for ordinary speech." Other authorities have been no...

About the author

Guy Deutscher

Guy Deutscher is the author of The Unfolding of Language. Formerly a fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, and of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Languages at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he is an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester. He lives in Oxford, England.

Guy Deutscher

Official Links

Guy Deutscher at the New York Times