How does our mother tongue (Why don't we call it a "father tongue," I wonder?) shape what we see and what we don't see; how we orient ourselves in space and time; and the associations we attach to people, animals, ideas and objects? Why do some people describe the sky as black, not blue? And what exactly did Homer mean when he said "wine-dark sea"? Through the Language Glass
is Guy Deutscher's exuberant and very excellent adventure among competing ideas, theories and scientific experiments to find the answers.
Deutscher argues that "cultural differences are reflected in language in profound ways," creating "habits of mind that language can instill on the ground level of thought: on memory, attention, perception, and associations." Color perception (blue in particular) is the earthiest and most fascinating of these, something most of us would imagine is universal...
Beyond the Book
Deutscher has much to say about the color "blue": its presence or absence in a language or culture, its sister-color, "green" with which it combines as a single hue in some languages, and notes that it is the color most difficult for children to learn.
Did you know?
- Many languages do not have separate terms for blue and green; when linguists discuss this combined color they refer to it as grue.
- Vietnamese, Thai and Korean have one word for green and blue; as do the Pashtun people of Afghanistan and N.W. Pakistan.
- Japanese has a word for blue...