November 26, 2011

Review - What Language Is (John McWorther)

Languages are intricate and complicated and often quite messy. Especially when you're trying to learn a new one, you'll realize just how many rules there are, and even more exceptions to those rules. Blessed those with a talent for learning foreign tongues. In What Language Is John McWorther introduces the reader in a both insightful and fun way to languages, shedding light not only on their history but also on the way they evolve and change.
Very entertainingly written, yet a bit heavy on actual examples (oh my), this book really intrigued me. The author not only discusses the most spoken languages of our world, but also points at the relevance of languages that seem doomed to extinction in the years to come. Admittedly it was a bit discouraging to read all his examples of translations, though it beautifully showed how intricate languages really are. From simple languages, such as English or Persian, straight to those that make you glad you don't need to actually learn them, such as Nasioi in New Guinea where you have 100 genders (and you thought having to learn two in French was tough). Add a fascinating excursion into Black English too.
As important as the written word may appear, it's noteworthy how McWorther puts an emphasis on language being oral. The spoken word is how it all started after all. And speaking remains the way that much of language is produced.
In short: A highly recommendable book for anyone interested in linguistics!

4/5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley.com book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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