September 4, 2012

Through the Language Glass

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 The history and historiography of the “wine-dark sea” question – the observation, originally made by Gladstone, that Homer uses words for colors that make no sense, like the “wine” for the turquoise Mediterranean and “green” for sheep – is treated with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.