An interview with the English linguist Guy Deutscher

décembre 20th, 2012



By Rachid Filali/Algeria

Mr. Guy Deutscher

Your latest book “Through the Language Glass : How Words Colour Your World”  caused a big storm of debate in the field of linguistics, where you tried to examine the old theory, concerning the question of influence between language and culture, first what is the motive drove you to discuss this theory again?


I thought the power and importance of culture (as opposed to genes and DNA) over language and over our thoughts has been underestimated in recent decades, and wanted to put it back in its rightful place.

-Mr. Deutscher
Greeks not only those suffering from disease Daltoniseme, where there is a dialect in the east of Algeria (Jijel) does not differentiate the speakers, between blue and green, and also do not differentiate between hearing and smell .. Of course there is no relationship between these Greeks and Arabs - Berbers, what do you think?

I tried to show in the book that the lack of vocabulary for colour differences has nothing to do with Daltonism, that is colour blindness. It is a cultural difference, in language, not in eyesight. And there are similarities not just between ancient Greeks and Berbers, but with cultures all over the world in the way that colour vocabulary develops. This is one of the main themes of the book.

-Do not you think - sir - that your book, encourages some racist tendencies, which defends the superior race, who speaks the language of advanced,
And criticizes the backward race which speaks the language of poor and powerless?

Of course not. What could possibly have given you this idea? There is nothing in my book about ’superior race’. My book in fact tries to say that any differences between us are due to the cultural environment and have nothing to do with race.

-There are a number of linguists describe the Arabic language as backward and the language of nomadism, and therefore is not a language of civilization, because they used a large number of terms are too old and these terms are generated in an environment Sahroah, but Arabic is the same that gave many of the terms urban Modern Languages ​​(English, French, German, Russian ..) What do you think, sir?

I think there is no such thing as a ‘backward language’. If a language doesn’t have words for scientific or abstract terms, it can just borrow these, just like all European languages borrowed their words for scientific and abstract terms from Latin and Greek, and… yes - Arabic.

-Some languages ​​are very complex and does not have an alphabet such as Chinese and Japanese, but the speakers of these languages ​​are not less intelligent than others, on the

contrary, they are very smart, and their ideas about life including “great philosophy” .. The Sioux Indians - for example - in the United States speak a language seem poor but rich in myths reflect the view of the world, is not it?

You have to separate between writing system and spoken language. Chinese writing system is indeed complex, but the language itself is not more complex than English or French or Arabic.

-Mr. Deutscher

You know that there are scientific theories with preconceived ideas and deviant, Linguistics and full of such quasi-scientific theories, what is the way of research in this important area of human culture without falling into extremism and falsehood?

As in all things to do with science - the best way is to try to stick to facts, and facts that can be proved.

Regards, Guy Deutscher


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