Beyond the Wall East Germany, 1949-1990
A nation's language, or so we are often told, reflects its culture, psyche and modes of thought. Some languages don't have a future tense, so naturally their speakers have no grasp of the future. The Babylonians would have been hard pressed to understand Crime and Punishment because their language used the same word to describe both these concepts. German is a model of logical organization, which is why the Germans have such an orderly mind; English is an adaptable, even promiscuous language; and Italian - ah, Italian!
Many a dinner conversation is animated by such vignettes, and yet, pour a few cold facts over such observations, and they soon collapse like a soufflé of airy anecdote - at best amusing and meaningless, at worst bigoted and absurd. So once one has sifted out the unfounded and the uninformed, the farcical and the fantastic, is there anything sensible left to be said about the relation between language, culture and thought? Does language reflect the culture of a society in any profound sense, beyond such trivia as the number of words it has for snow or for shearing camels? Is our mother-tongue a lens through which we perceive the world? Can different languages lead their speakers to different thoughts? Could our experience of a Chagall painting depend on whether our language has a word for 'blue'?
In Through the Language Glass, acclaimed author Guy Deutscher will convince you that, contrary to the fashionable academic consensus of today, the answer to all these questions is - yes. On an odyssey that takes us from Homer to Darwin, from scientists to savages, from the corridors of Yale to the rivers of the Amazon, from how to name the rainbow to why Russian water - a 'she' - become a 'he' once you have dipped a tea bag into her, this book explores some of the most fascinating and controversial questions about language, culture and the human mind.
Guy Deutscher is the author of The Unfolding of Language: The Evolution of Mankind's Greatest Invention. Formerly a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge and of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he is an honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. He lives in Surrey with his wife and two daughters.