Through the Language Glass Book Summary - Through the Language Glass Book explained in key points
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Through the Language Glass summary

Guy Deutscher

Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

4 (67 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher explores the relationship between language and thought. It challenges the Whorfian hypothesis and argues that language plays a more nuanced role in shaping our perceptions of the world.

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    Through the Language Glass
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    Language reflects culture.

    If you’ve ever read the works of the Ancient Greek poet Homer, you might have noticed that he never employs a word that could be taken to mean “blue.” Why? Because color is one area where language reflects culture. The Ancient Greeks, as you’ll soon discover, had a very different culture of color than we do today.

    Based on the words for color used in The Iliad and The Odyssey, the English prime minister and scholar William Ewart Gladstone argued that the ancient Greeks’ sense of color must have differed from ours.

    In his Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age, published in 1858, Gladstone argued that the Greeks perceived the world in something closer to black-and-white than technicolor.

    According to Gladstone, Homer wasn’t merely exercising poetic license when he chose his words – words that seem strange by today’s standards. Rather, like the rest of the Ancient Greeks, he had an undeveloped perception of color, largely confined to light and dark. This is why he described things like honey and freshly-picked twigs as chlôros (green), a color neither black nor white, to give a sense of their paleness and freshness.

    Further adding to Gladstone’s case was the fact that Homer made little or no reference to color when we might otherwise expect it, such as when speaking of spring flowers in a field. Moreover, he generally preferred elementary forms of color – black and white – over others. For example, melas (black) can be found 170 times in his works, whereas xanthos (yellow) appears only ten times.

    This led Gladstone to claim that, at some point, mankind underwent an education of the eye – that is, we learned to perceive differences in color – that hadn’t yet happened in Ancient Greece. But why?

    In Ancient Greece, artificial colors, produced through paints and dyes, were still in their infancy. For instance, Ancient Greeks rarely saw blue (apart from the sea and sky), as blue eyes, blue dyes and truly blue flowers were rare. Perhaps this is why Homer never uses a word for “blue.”

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    What is Through the Language Glass about?

    Through the Language Glass (2010) explores the many ways in which language both reflects and influences our culture. By exploring the different ways that languages deal with space, gender and color, the book demonstrates just how fundamentally the language you speak alters your perception of the world.

    Through the Language Glass Review

    Through the Language Glass (2010) by Guy Deutscher delves into the fascinating world of language and its influence on our perception of reality. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • Explores how language shapes our thoughts and affects our perception of the world, offering profound insights into culture, cognition, and communication.
    • Presents compelling evidence from different languages and cultures, challenging preconceived notions and revealing the power of language in shaping our understanding of the world.
    • Engages readers with its curious and thought-provoking anecdotes, making it a captivating and exciting journey into the intricacies of language and human perception.

    Best quote from Through the Language Glass

    Culture enjoys freedom within constraints.

    —Guy Deutscher
    example alt text

    Who should read Through the Language Glass?

    • People interested in language and how it affects us
    • Anyone interested in how the brain works
    • Linguistics students

    About the Author

    Guy Deutscher is a linguist and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. In addition to his numerous academic contributions, Deutscher is also the author of The Unfolding of Language.

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    Through the Language Glass FAQs 

    What is the main message of Through the Language Glass?

    The main message of Through the Language Glass is that language shapes the way we perceive and understand the world.

    How long does it take to read Through the Language Glass?

    The reading time for Through the Language Glass varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Through the Language Glass a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Through the Language Glass is worth reading because it explores the fascinating relationship between language and culture.

    Who is the author of Through the Language Glass?

    The author of Through the Language Glass is Guy Deutscher.

    What to read after Through the Language Glass?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Through the Language Glass, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
    • The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
    • Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner
    • Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo
    • The First Rule of Mastery by Michael Gervais
    • How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster
    • 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale
    • Phaedo by Plato
    • Language Intelligence by Joseph J Romm
    • The Source by Dr. Tara Swart