I bought this book on February 1st at a bookstore in Aachen, Germany, during what they called ‘Bye Bye-Brexit rabat’ (Bye Bye Brexit Sale) which was 20% discount on all English books. Obviously, I couldn’t resist.
I went on to convince the book club I recently joined to read it as our next read, but unfortunately because of the entire Covid19 situation, we haven’t had the possibility to discuss the book. I now feel a little bit sorry for them, as the book was not really what I hoped it would be.
The subject fascinates me. When I was a small child, growing up speaking Dutch, for a time I believed (I am embarrassed to admit) that everyone always thought in Dutch, but that two French people for example, would then decide to speak French to each other. I quickly learned this was not the case, but it kept me interested in how someones language might influence how people think. Which is why I wanted to read Through the Language Glass.
The author himself is very much interested in colors. And a large part of the book is in fact about the evolution of the naming of colors in languages. While interesting, I thought it was rather a bit too extensive. The remainder of the book was filled with some interesting facts, which might come to use at a pub quiz but the argument for the influence between language and thought was never very strong.
Most interestingly I found the argument that some languages are forcing people to convey information in a certain sentence that other do not. For example, if your languages has changing verbs announcing how certain you are something happened, you have to think about it before making that sentence. If you have different verbs for something that happened one day or a week ago, again you have to think about. Same for languages who unlike English have gendered words.
Ultimately, the effect that was measured was rather small, I’d argue. While difficult to measure objectively, is thinking colors are further apart from each other when they cross an arbitrary color-name boundary something that is important enough to consider this a significant effect of language on thought? I am not convinced.