Through the Language Glass (2010) by Guy Deutscher explores how different languages give a different view of the world. The book explores how through the past 200 years people have looked at language and pondered if it constrained, shaped or showed the intelligence of the people who spoke a language.
Deutscher starts by writing about how the future British Prime Minister Gladstone noted that the colors in Homer were severely lacking and outright weird. This led to speculation, fueled by the discovery of evolution, that the range of color vision that we have now is a newly evolved sense. Clearly, such theories were wrong however the fact that languages often have fewer words for color than others is interesting.
Deutscher goes on to write about how the study of languages of hunter-gatherers confirmed how languages do not in these cases have many words for colors. First there are words for black and white and then red. After that words for the other colors come. However, all the people who spoke these languages could identify colors as well as people from languages where there more words for colors.
In the 1920s the academics Edward Sapir and Ben Whorf went far beyond the idea of just colors being what language allowed and decided that people’s entire view of the world stemmed from their language. This hypothesis then fell to pieces.
Deutscher then, however, argues against Steven Pinker’s view that all languages allow expression of ideas and that linguistics is not particularly relevant. Deutscher goes on to state how he believes gender in language allows more expressiveness.
The book goes on with a number of interesting tales of languages where there is no egocentric position (i.e. left/right) and where there are unusual rules of how facts come to be known.
The book is interesting mainly for the anecdotes it contains. The book actually punctures most of the views of language as deeply shaping thought in particular ways and reverts to it merely affecting thoughts slightly.