Through the Language Glass

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An intriguing look at the philosophy of language generally, and specifically at whether and how language shapes thought. Deutscher has no patience for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis generally, and specifically explodes the supposition that people whose language has no word for a concept cannot easily think about it. It’s at once a lively and a careful book, though Deutscher telegraphs his conclusions in a way that saps some of its energy. The history and historiography of the “wine-dark sea” question – the observation, originally made by Gladstone, that Homer uses words for colors that make no sense, like the “wine” for the turquoise Mediterranean and “green” for sheep – is treated with special care and prudence, and reaches a very satisfying resolution.