Can Language Shape Perception?
By Nataliia Savchenko
A fascinating book on the link between language, culture, and perception, “Through the Language Glass” by Guy Deutscher, a research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics, and Cultures at the University of Manchester and author of books that deal with languages, explains the complex ways in which language proficiency affects the smallest details of our daily life, such as color perception. In his third book, he asks if our mother tongue is the lens through which we perceive the world. Deutscher further questions whether learning foreign languages leads speakers to different thoughts. As a result, he discusses how culture can shape the mind of the speakers. The book explores a few idiosyncratic elements of specific languages that create doubt on biologically-based linguistic theories. Deutscher (2011) explains: “A nation’s language, so we are often told, reflects its culture, psyche, and models of thoughts (p.1).
The central discussion of the first part of the book focuses on language as the mirror of the mind. It explores why words for particular colors remain consistent across human languages. This critical section also discusses the way cultural conversations create an impact on language. The two scenarios provide the strongest controversial point because language is a cultural convention of our society that each of us learned accidentally. Deutscher provides examples of different colors based on the Iliad and the Odyssey, in which Homeric scholars describe the sea as “wine-dark.” Deutscher demonstrates that an eloquent Homer has an unexpectedly-sparse color terminology, which makes people question whether he lives in a relatively colorless globe. He makes individuals think that Greek has no word for blue while Russians acknowledge that dark and light blue colors exist. Besides, Deutscher demonstrates that the way yellow, green, red, black, and white create a strange sequence in the globe’s languages as time passes. Even though the pattern does not provide a full explanation, he claims that color terms are the culture-induced linguistic components that create changes in people’s racial and ethnic perceptions.
Deutscher offers comprehensive information regarding essential areas incorporating weak linguistic relativity version. He claims that several people treat grammatical gender as idiosyncratic and arbitrary by referring to turnip and a young girl as a “she” and “it” respectively, thus mocking the German language. In the case of, spatial relationships, Deutscher reveals that English speakers use words such as “in front of," "behind,” or “beside” for positions of people and objects while other languages utilize compass references, including “southwest of” and “east of” for the same scenario. Deutscher concludes that individuals continue embracing cardinal points to register locations because the repeated application of these words establish an internal cognitive compass in the mind.
Overall, the author highlights how language affects our perception in terms of color and spatial orientation. The book helps to expand horizons because it includes color, grammatical gender, and location as critical factors that condition the way people think in daily life even though the connection is not causal. Figures from the past help to navigate drastic changes and draw conclusions. Deutscher’s book is scientifically cautious, while enthusiastic about the subject and sometimes humorous, and complex ideas are clearly presented. Moreover, reading the subtitle, “Why does the world look different in other languages?” the reader might expect an unequivocal “yes” or “no.” Deutscher’s book is for the reader who wants to reflect and understand not only that language changes behavior but also the way cultural conventions play a significant role in linguistic complexity. It is impossible to isolate any part of the worldview of a person and conclude that it is not associated with or triggered by some part of the language because spatial relations, grammatical gender, and color terms evidence the whole scenario.
About the Author
Nataliia Savchenko is a student at the Universität Greifswald studying English Studies, German, and Swedish.
Deutscher, G. (2011). Through the language glass: why the world looks different in other languages. Arrow Books.