How our language affects how we see the world (to an extent!)

I recently I read Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher while on holiday. Get yourselves to your libraries and pick up a copy! After feeling sad at returning my copy, I’ve decided to buy myself one so I can read it again.

Whilst most of the studies and ideas weren’t new to me, I enjoyed the reminder and thought that the writing was perfect. The book takes us down a logical progression of entertainingly written facts and ideas about how the language we’re born with affects how we see the world. It concerns what I was taught was called the weak Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or linguistic relativism. The strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which states that language confines how we see the world, is – as the book explains – no longer respected, but a weaker version that language affects some ways of thinking is very likely.

If you’re interested in how different languages express colour and how this reflects or affects – to a degree – how we see colour, pick up this book. I was reading bits out to my dad and he seemed as interested as I first was when I learned about the difference in how Russian speakers and English speakers see different shades of blue because they call light blue and dark blue by different colour terms.

I took the book away with me on holiday and it was a suitably easy read. It assumes very little knowledge of linguistics so could be picked up happily by most people and it should be picked up. This is a perfect introduction to linguistics because it covers a topic most people can get interested in, doesn’t require the reader to have a grounding in other areas of linguistics and is easy to read.

I know that I get excited by areas of linguistics even people studying linguistics find dull (I loved analysing speech intonation, but the fact that that module only had around 10 people signed up for it speaks for itself…), but I promise that linguistic relativism is more universally interesting.


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