Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Through the Language Glass: why the world looks different in other languages

by Guy Deutscher

I call shenanigans! After detailing the Sapir-Whorf debacle and cautioning against unfounded assumptions generally, and after the caveat that there is much we do not know about brain function and physiology, this linguist goes and says:

"[I]t becomes clear that when the brain has to decide whether two colors look the same or not, the circuits responsible for visual perception ask the language circuits for help in making decision, even if no speaking is involved. So for the first time, there is now direct neurophysiologic evidence that areas of the brain that are specifically responsible for name finding are involved with the processing of purely visual color information."
Now, I'm no neurophysiologist, but I know a thing or two. Even overlooking the weak "it becomes clear" excuse for an explanation, I immediately thought of at least one good reason that language areas of the brain would fire while a person is analyzing visual input about colors, and it has nothing at all to do with the visual circuits "asking for help" from the language circuits!

Anyway, now I've got that off my chest.... I really liked the first third of this book, in which the author talks about the mystery of the seeming absence of color descriptions in ancient texts, and runs through the history of color naming and color perception ideas (among others) in linguistic studies. I don't want to go into too much detail about the trail of breadcrumbs he's trying to lay out, but suffice it to say after an intriguing launch he started losing me halfway through, and by the end I was thoroughly disgusted and so ready for the book to be over.

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