Arrow £7.99 (311pp) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Through the Language Glass, By Guy Deutscher
Friday 04 February 2011
This dazzling work on "the most down-to-earth level of everyday language" starts by quoting WE Gladstone: when he wasn't being PM, or rescuing fallen women, he was an expert classicist.
He was fascinated by the erratic colours in Greek texts – green honey, violet wool and, most famously, wine-dark sea. He explained this as a colour blindness among the Greeks that was later overcome. Deutscher claims he was "spot-on", if we substitute culture for biology.
Unfolding a fascinating argument on how "the world looks different in other languages", he notes how the speech of Matses in Amazonia is so particular that it would satisfy "the finickiest of lawyers". If Deutscher's style is a trifle mannered, this is a small price for such a lively book.
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