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The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language

The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language [Kindle Edition]

John H. McWhorter

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"The Language Hoax has a sharp-edged title, but a generous and methodical approach to the evidence on both sides of the 'language-shapes-thought' debate. Nonetheless, John McWhorter has gathered the most comprehensive case for the prosecution out there, which will make both specialists and general readers think again. Besides being provoked, they will also be entertained by this wonderfully written book, which ends with the aim of redeeming our common humanity." --Robert Lane Greene, Language columnist, The Economist, and author of You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws andthe Politics of Identity"Some popular ideas are worse than wrong--they have a smidgen of truth on minor matters, but encourage misunderstandings of major matters. John McWhorter, one of our sharpest explainers of linguistics, shows that this is true of the chestnut that language shapes thought. Despite its superficial sophistication, the hypothesis conceals profound truths: that thought is far richer than language; that languages are products of capricious memetics rather than reflections of cultural obsessions; and that the cognitive similarities among people are deeper than their differences." --Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct and The Stuff of Thought


Japanese has a term that covers both green and blue. Russian has separate terms for dark and light blue. Does this mean that Russians perceive these colors differently from Japanese people? Does language control and limit the way we think?
This short, opinionated book addresses the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which argues that the language we speak shapes the way we perceive the world. Linguist John McWhorter argues that while this idea is mesmerizing, it is plainly wrong. It is language that reflects culture and worldview, not the other way around. The fact that a language has only one word for eat, drink, and smoke doesn't mean its speakers don't process the difference between food and beverage, and those who use the same word for blue and green perceive those two colors just as vividly as others do.
McWhorter shows not only how the idea of language as a lens fails but also why we want so badly to believe it: we're eager to celebrate diversity by acknowledging the intelligence of peoples who may not think like we do. Though well-intentioned, our belief in this idea poses an obstacle to a better understanding of human nature and even trivializes the people we seek to celebrate. The reality -- that all humans think alike -- provides another, better way for us to acknowledge the intelligence of all peoples.


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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 3.9 von 5 Sternen  8 Rezensionen
5.0 von 5 Sternen Language, thought, and reality? 22. August 2014
Von Jaylia3 - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Does the structure of the language we speak affect the way we think and how we perceive the world? If you are intrigued by that idea and don’t mind re-examining any cherished Sapir-Whorf beliefs you may have this short but spirited and well argued book will be of interest. When we think of the fascinatingly structured Navajo language there is some appeal to the idea that its speakers have a special, maybe advanced way of understanding reality, but with his usual well informed wit McWhorter makes the case that if you accept that and take the idea that language patterns and limits our perceptions to all its logical conclusions you’ll end up with some very unpalatable and fortunately wrong judgements about various other peoples of the world--from the Chinese who speak a language which marks hypotheticals less explicitly than English (though surely Chinese speakers around the globe understand the difference between “She would have called him” and “She will have called him” anyway) to the people in New Guinea who speak languages with only one word for eat, drink, and smoke, (but who couldn’t possibly be thus doomed by this lack to be unable to distinguish between those three activities.)

Most people tend to take their own language’s idiosyncrasies (and idioms) in stride, accepting them as what’s normal, but language variations are the actual norm. McWhorter makes a convincing case that most of the often marvelous differences between languages are random, like spontaneous DNA mutations, and almost meaningless when we are looking at cognitive skills. Yes, Amazonian people with languages that have no way to indicate amounts higher than 2 or 3 will likely not be good at math, but McWhorter believes that is driven by circumstance and culture since hunter-gathers around the world and throughout time have not had much use for a number like 8,527.

McWhorter is always entertaining, and I especially love all the fascinating language facts he deploys, like that the Tuyuca people, who also live in the Amazon, have a language so rich and complex there are multiple suffixes for every verb to indicate where the speaker learned whatever he or she is saying--there’s one suffix affixed to the verb to let listeners know that speakers heard someone else say what they are now saying, another suffix for when the speakers instead saw what they are telling you, yet another for when the speakers think what they are saying is true but aren’t sure, etc. The Language Hoax is replete with wonderful, mind-expanding language anecdotes.

While it’s definitely both fun and worth reading, this isn’t my favorite of McWhorter’s books. Because it focuses somewhat narrowly on the debate about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and its neo-Whorfian revival, The Language Hoax didn’t glue me to its pages with the same level of intensity that some of McWhorter’s other titles have, including Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, which gives different insights into the history English than I have read elsewhere, The Power of Babel, which covers the worldwide history of language and its development, and What Language Is, which presents an almost fecund biological picture of how languages multiply, evolve, and disperse.
4 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen It's about time. 6. Juni 2014
Von David Baca - Veröffentlicht auf
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I've been a fan of John H. McWhorter ever since he penned"Babel." He has a knack of making the often mind -boggling science of linguistics and the complexity of language not only accessible and comprehensible but also entertaining and delightfully educational.

For years I've been waiting for someone with the savvy and wit of Socrates to take to task the language shapes thought crowd. McWhorter refutes the stale tale that the languages humans speak are relative to the culture in which they are expressed. In the Language Hoax McWhorter refutes Whorfian "truths" with knock-down arguments page after page from start to finish.

The onus is on the Whorfians to prove that linguistic relativism is a tenable position to take.
3 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A short and snappy refutation 23. Juni 2014
Von Galileo - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
It cheers me to read this brilliantly organized look at the belief that language shapes our world view. McWhorter examines several arguments in favor of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and with very carefully stated rebuttals, respectfully dismantles them. What's most cheering is his skepticism about goofy suggestions (like this one: that a language with no future verb tense equals a people who don't have savings accounts). All in all McWhorter's main point is social scientists, linguists, the popular press, and the rest of us should be careful to avoid stereotyping cultures based on how their languages work.
5.0 von 5 Sternen Five Stars 6. August 2014
Von Olga Shabalina - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
Excellent deep investigation of language and thought with approaches hard to resist.
4 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Not Sapir Whorf, exactly. 8. Mai 2014
Von John E. Clifford - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
Read Through the Language Glass first to get a sense of what McWhorter is putting down. Otherwise you may think this is about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in all its glory. In the end, McWhorter gives a fairly good account of the political factors which may have created the hypothesis and also led to the current diminished form. But all that says nothing about the truth of the full form -- which is, by the way, not discussed or more than alluded to in either book.
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