"A short, sour, brilliant little book... McWhorter makes all the right arguments, and he makes them clearly." --Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
"[McWhorter] tackles linguistic determinism--the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis--head on, arguing that world views are human, not strapped to one culture." --Nature
"McWhorter is exhaustive, fair-minded, and convincing." --Pacific Standard
"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 and the 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
"The Language Hoax is a well-written and stimulating book that asks uncomfortable questions and turns common arguments on their head. The author uses examples from an impressive number of languages across the globe to provide counter-examples to claims that may easily be made (and occasionally have been made) about the influence of language on thought... McWhorter's thought-provoking manifesto provides much stuff to think about and keep the discussion on language, culture and thought going. It is suitable for both undergraduate and graduate classes (I just did it in one of mine, in combination with Deutscher's book), to provide answers to the -- yes, open -- question of whether the world looks different in other languages, or just the same in any language." --LinguistList
"To close, we applaud the depth of the author's manifesto in terms of the expansive literature coverage, historical developments, and implications for social science. We recommend it to anyone with an interest in language and thought who also likes a good read."-- American Journal of Psychology
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.