Streams

Why the World Looks Different through Other Languages

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Acclaimed linguist Guy Deutscher looks at the thorny question of how—and if—culture and language shape each other. His new book Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different through Other Languages re-examines the long discredited belief that our native tongues influence the way we see the world. He argues that the words we have and expressions we use can profoundly shape our understanding of everything: from color, to gender to morals.

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Guy Deutscher
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Comments [11]

Peter from NYC

Regarding Paul's comment above: when one is fluent in more than one language, it obvious that language influences thought. Also, a poor grasp of even one language and a limited vocabulary and misunderstanding of the meaning of words profoundly affects one's understanding of concepts. We think in words. There is nothing racist about this idea !

Sep. 09 2010 05:52 AM
anonyme

I wish they would ask this fellow back when Leonard is around. I don't think Elliot's the guy for this chat, with all due respect. (He cut him off before he finished his thought and he jsut doesn't care or hear what this guy is trying to get across. Also I love taht all teh Montrealers are listening (McGill?)

Sep. 08 2010 04:42 PM
maggie from nj

Do you know how these nouns first came to have a fem. or masc. article?
Isn't it equally likely that a culture saw these things as masc or fem. and therefore assigned the gender--not the other way around?

Sep. 08 2010 12:37 PM
Paul from New York City

Re: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis -- it has all but been entirely discredited, except by racists. It is the linguistic equivalent of phrenology and should be condemned as such.

Sep. 08 2010 12:33 PM
Ken from Manhattan

Intrigued by a couple of points in the article, maybe to extend analogy of objective vs subjective directions (NESW vs Front, Right, Back, Left) to the musical "perfect pitch" vs "relative pitch" split.

Some musicians are trained in "fixed DO" / objective, others in "movable DO" / subjective.

Sep. 08 2010 12:26 PM
Sharmishtha from Connecticut

What about those of us who grow up bilingual - I mean really bilingual to the point where we can slip in and out of languages with perfect ease. There are many millions of people who grow up this way. What does the research say about this?

Sep. 08 2010 12:22 PM
Keir Moulton from Montréal

Another useful (and usefully critical) lay source on this topic can be found here and within the links cited:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2592

Sep. 08 2010 12:21 PM
Marian from Westchester

This very idea was also written about in the introduction to the book "Meetings with Remarkable Men" by Gurdjieff, in the 1920's.

Sep. 08 2010 12:13 PM
Susan Kohn from Downtown Manhattan

One of the most intriguing statements I ever read was in a book called Lost in Translation, by Eva Hoffman, who emigrated from Poland to Canada. I believe she was a teenager at the time. Several years later, she dated a man who proposed to her. She said that when she considered his proposal in Polish, she came up with one answer, but when she considered it in English, she came up with the opposite answer (I forget which was which).

Sep. 08 2010 12:13 PM
Keir Moulton from Montreal

The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax is back!
I hope your guest corrects this.

Sep. 08 2010 12:08 PM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, CA

I'm very much taken with the Sapir-Worf Hypothesis, which states "The structure of our language alters the perception of reality, and causes us GREAT dishonour," (as best I can translate from the original Klingon).

Sep. 08 2010 11:15 AM

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