samedi 28 janvier 2012

Through The Language Glass by Guy Deutscher - Book review

Through the Language Glass

Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

By: Guy Deutscher

Published: August 30, 2011
Format: Trade Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-10: 0312610491
ISBN-13: 978-0312610494
Publisher: Picador

"I will argue that cultural differences are reflected in language in profound ways, and that a growing body of reliable scientific research provides solid evidence that our mother tongue can affect how we think and how we perceive the world", writes former Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge and of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Languages in the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, and honorary Research Fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures in the University of Manchester, Guy Deutscher in his fascinating and thought provoking book Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. The author describes how the very words and grammar of a language frames the way its native speakers think and view the world, and that languages are all fundamentally different in very crucial ways.

Guy Deutscher moves linguistics out of the field of genetics and places languages firmly in the camp of culture. In the eternal argument of nature and nurture, the author lands solidly on the side of nurture and cultural influences on language. He goes one step farther, and demonstrates that the very words and structure of a language nurture different ways of thinking and looking at the world from those of other language speakers. Instead of accepting the widely held opinion that languages are subsets, and even dialects of one another, Guy Deutscher considers the different languages to be discrete and the creators of a multitude of varying worldviews.

Guy Deutscher (photo left) recognizes that there are enormous differences in culture around the world, but these are usually thought to be superficial. The author presents the alternative concept that these cultural variations are the result of the structure of the language, its choices and variations of words, and its grammar.

Guy Deutscher points out that different languages have decidedly contrasting structures and views of both time and space. For the author, these and other differences in perception carry with them radically different worldviews that are embedded at a very young age. The author utilizes the latest scientific research in neurology, and the ideas of the great philosophers, to frame his case. For the author, even how various language speakers consider colors, is a reflection of both the mirror of a language, and the lens of the language.

For me, the power of the book is how Guy Deutscher presents a compelling argument that language shapes cultures and the worldviews of its speakers. The author acknowledges that his case must overcome some serious historical baggage relating to cultures and the people of the world. At the same time, he presents language as a cultural phenomenon, and not one of genetics. The author also employs leading edge scientific studies to support his position.

Guy Deutscher writes in a very accessible and lively style that draws the reader along through a historical and global tour spanning continents and thousands of years. The author also presents his ideas in a logical format and includes illustrative and supporting examples from history, science, and philosophy. This book will challenge the reader's own perceptions of the world, and lead to further discussion and investigation of this endlessly intriguing topic.

I highly recommend the groundbreaking and landmark book Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher, to anyone seeking a serious and fresh approach to the study of linguistics, language, and cultural perception. Whether a person agrees or disagrees with the author, this book is an important and essential contribution to the fields of linguistics, language, history, human geography, and culture.

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