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Metaphors We Live By

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4.08 rating

Comment 1: I first read parts of this book nearly 20 years ago. I meant to get my hands on the whole thing back then too and read it from cover to cover, but for one reason or another I never seemed to get around to it. This is a pity, as it is the sort of book I really ought to have read in full back then and perhaps again a couple of times since. This really is an interesting book.The main idea is that rather than metaphors being curious literary devices, that they in fact are central to how we understand the world. Many of the conclusions proposed in this book are fairly standard theory now. V.S. Ramachandran makes it clear that metaphors play a central role in our understanding how the brain works, although he goes somewhat further than Lakoff and Johnson in putting a lot of the reason why we use them in the first place down to synaesthesia. Lakoff and Johnson are concerned to stress that we would not be able to understand the world at all without our ability to create, understand and deploy metaphors.Metaphor is distinguished from metonymy (where the part takes the place of the whole – as in, he’s in dance or the ham sandwich on two also wants a coke). They make the interesting point that when we say things like ‘we need some new faces around here’ this is partly because faces are the most important distinguishing feature people have and that, foe instance, handing someone a photo of your son which shows all of his body from the neck down is really not showing someone a photo of your son. The key idea is that metaphors structure how we think about the world. The best examples of this are those around love and arguments. In our culture we talk about arguing as if it was about war. We dig in to our positions, we take sides, we prepare for someone’s onslaught, we shoot down their arguments, we make tactical retreats and we defend our ground. In particularly acrimonious arguments we may even hurt the feelings of some of those around us and (in these days of military euphemism) we may refer to these people as collateral-damage. As the authors say, just what would it mean if we changed our metaphors about arguments? What if arguments were no longer wars, but rather dances? Dances where someone leads and the other follows, where arguments have a certain pace and rhythm, where both parties are concerned with maintaining the flow of the argument and do what they can to help the other carry the tune and stay in time. Whatever ‘argument as war’ means it could not be further from what ‘argument as dance’ means. This is such a fundamental shift in paradigm, as Kuhn would say, that really there is virtually no common ground between the two kinds of ‘arguments’.The only time this book comes close to being a self-help book – which, I have to admit, the title almost does sound like – is when they discuss changing metaphors to change the nature of love. They make the very interesting point that virtually all (that might actually be all, by the way) of the metaphors we use are used to help us understand something abstract (like love) in terms that have a concrete awareness for us, (like war – love is a battlefield, or a journey – the course of true love never ran smooth or a container – my heart is bursting open with love for you). They talk of how we might trasform our notions of love by discussing love in terms of a jointly constructed and collaborative work of art. Imagine how such as notion moves our understanding of love from something that either is or isn’t, from something that happens to us beyond our control – towards love being something that needs to be worked on and created and composed and jointly constructed. Love then becomes something that is never actually completed, but rather is always a work in progress. I really like this idea. And notice, beyond the idea itself, that what is really happening here is that in changing the structure of the metaphor we get a series of consistent baby metaphors that each say something different and interesting about the nature of love. A metaphor family on a consistent theme.And that is, in part, the point of this book. The person who introduced me to this book was a teacher. She said that once she had read this book she couldn’t help thinking about metaphors and what they said, how they were like a window into the souls of what people actually believed. In Orwell’s Politics and the English Language he says that if people use mixed metaphors it shows they aren’t paying attention to what they are saying. And if they aren’t paying attention to what they are saying, that probably means what they are saying contains some kind of barbarism their ‘blind words’ (blind to the images their words create) display. The authors here point out that this works in reverse too. It is not so much that we choose our metaphors, it is rather that our metaphors choose us and tell us important things about what we think. Our metaphors cohere. They cluster together in like groups and in ways that Kuhn, referred to, in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, with the metaphor ‘to accrete’ - like barnacles on the bottom of a boat, if I remember rightly.The teacher who introduced this book to me spoke of how once people in her profession had been referred to as teachers. There were problems with this name, of course. It implies a master/servant relationship between teacher and learner that anyone who has spent any time at all being one or the other would know is hardly accurate. Then they were called facilitators – which has nice implications (a bit like the word ‘catalyst’ in chemistry, something that must be present for the reaction to take place, but isn’t actually involved in the reaction itself in any way) – but perhaps this goes too far the other way, in that if teacher is too bold a term, facilitator is simply too humble. But at the time she was working in TAFE and this was a time when accountants had only just taken over – philistines with eyes directed towards the bottom line and with a tape measure always in one hand to ensure everything is appropriately calibrated. It was then that she stopped being a teacher and facilitator only to became a package delivery officer. Notice the metaphor here is virtually indistinguishable from a postal worker. Notice too that education is literally about the transfer of ‘knowledge’ (I guess that is what fills the packages) from one head (full to overflowing with the stuff) to the other head (empty and ready for the receiving). This is the perfect example of what Freire called the ‘banking model’ of education, in yet another beautifully turned metaphor. They make the interesting point that many of our metaphors are ontological – in that they are born from our lived experience. So, the reason why so many positive emotions are spatial where good = up, is because we experience standing tall and upright as being positive and healthy. Therefore we rise to the challenge, reach for the sky, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps or jump in the air when we are happy, but are brought down low, feel crushed under a terrible burden, shrink into the ground and so on when bad things happen. The consistency of metaphors really is interesting.I’ve gone on for too long – but want to end with something quite different. This really is a book overflowing with interesting ideas, but one that I particularly liked was their saying that not only is it impossible to truly paraphrase any sentence in English, but they even explain why. If I say Jack killed Tom – that is as strong a way as I can say that idea. Any other permutation of how to say it will only make it a weaker statement. Watch – ‘It is clear that Tom had been made a victim of Jack for one final time. These two sentences say almost the same thing – but all of the words between the subject of the sentence, the verb and the object make us wonder about the causal relationship between Jack and Tom dying. Even the sentence ‘Jack definitely killed Tom’ is weaker than ‘Jack killed Tom’. We think adverbs will ‘add to the verb’, but what they actually do is almost invariably take away from a naked verb’s power. The rule they suggest, is that the further away in words you make the cause from the effect, the weaker appears the causal relationship between the two. There is a long discussion in this book regarding Objectivism and Subjectivism and how they see the need for what they call an experientialist reconciliation between these two extreme positions (not unlike Kant’s reconciliation of rationalism and empiricism). This isn’t nearly as interesting as the first 24 chapters had been– nonetheless, the last five or so chapters didn’t take away from the power of the ideas contained here. A wonderful book I highly recommend.

You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation

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3.83 rating

Comment 1: Men and women have different ways of speaking. Men often try to one-up one another in conversation and take on a dominant role. This can be seen in them apparently lecturing in a teacher style (to show how much they know), something Tannen refers to as "report" type talking. Their styles of speaking show dominance, and independence. Women, on the other hand tend to try and build community and rapport. So while men's style puts a dividing wedge between people, women's may overlap and downplay things in order to bring people closer together. Problems may arise when women and men try to converse with one another, because women will feel that men's styles don't give them room to breathe, don't allow give and take, and automatically put them on the defensive (as men will use banter and argument as a way of establishing dominance, or merely having a good time). Also, even culturally there may be differences in styles of conversation/communication. Something as little as how long one pauses can cause offense among different peoples. Some require longer pauses in order to speak, some require (practically) written invitations. Changing the subject can also be construed as inattention, rudeness, dominance, or more positively, as downplaying the significance (which can be interpreted as being supportive by dismissing the problem as not being a problem) of something, or relating similar experiences (shifting the focus from one person to another). It's not even just that it's men and women who have difficulty talking with one another it's people with different (perhaps incompatible) styles that will have problems.One way of thinking about it, before you blow up at how your conversation partner is communicating, is to ask yourself what their intentions behind the conversation are. "Not seeing style differences for what they are, people draw conclusions about personality ("you're illogical," "you're insecure," "you're self-centered") or intentions ("you don't listen," "you put me down").Understanding style differences for what they are takes the sting out of them. Believing that "you're not interested in me," "you don't care about me as much as I care about you," or "you want to take away my freedom" feels awful. Believing that "you have a different way of showing you're listening" or "showing you care" allows for no-fault negotiation: You can ask for or make adjustments without casting or taking blame." (p. 298)What struck me was how similar a pattern folks get into when we get annoyed with one another. The man insists one thing, and the woman gets upset because he's forcefully trying to make her admit to something she never intended. Tannen's example:"An argument that arose between a real-life husband and wife shows the same pattern. In this argument, which was recorded and analyzed (from a different point of view) by Jane Frank, a husband returned home and called his wife to arms: "How would you like to eat humble crow?" She had said it would be impossible to find a painting of a particular size and type that he wanted; now he had found one and wanted her to admit that she had been wrong. Instead, the wife claimed that she had said it would be difficult, not impossible, to find. She proposed a compromise: She hadn't meant her remark as he interpreted it. But he would have none of that. She had said it; he had proved her wrong; she should admit defeat. Their argument, which became very heated, could not be resolved, because he never wavered from the message level - the literal accuracy of what she had said - but she soon moved on to what seemed far more important to her, the metamessage that his position sent about their relationship: "Why do you always want to prove me wrong and rank me out?" (p. 176).Scary how right on that is.I read this while I was completely frustrated with one of my guy friends - who could not seem to talk to me without attempting to engage me in some kind of argument or verbal skirmish. It was completely exhausting for me, and I couldn't understand why he had to *win* all the time. In his case the "intentions" behind the arguments were to provoke some kind of response in me (he had little other entertainment). When I figured out that you can't argue with crazy and stopped trying, I immediately felt much better. Not sure how he's doing, though.

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

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4.04 rating

Comment 1: In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin wrote, “Man has an instinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble of our young children; while no child has an instinctive tendency to bake, brew, or write.” The experimental psychologist, Steven Pinker, took this quote as the inspiration for his book on – what he considers – the idea that there exists an innate language instinct to be found across all cultures. Elaborating on the canonical linguistic ideas of Noam Chomsky, particularly in regard to Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, Pinker presents the lay reader with numerous examples of how language acquisition, grammatical comprehension, and the tendency to speak, are all aspects of an innate linguistic tendency that human beings share, regardless of cultural background or specific language.Though Pinker generally agrees with Chomsky’s work on Universal Grammar, The Language Instinct focuses primarily on the idea that thoughts create language, a mental process that Pinker refers to as “mentalese”. This theoretical linguistic perspective is diametric to that of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, which suggests that language determines thought, and that the particular culture one belongs to is unique, in turn greatly affecting the way that a person communicates, utilizes language, and ultimately, perceives the world around them.In Chapter one, entitled “An Instinct to Acquire an Art”, Pinker covers the two opposing linguistic schools, and talks about Chomsky and his research on Universal grammar. Pinker begins his polemic on Whorfian claims about language coloring in human perspective by discussing Chomsky’s skepticism, concerning not merely the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, but the “Standard Social Science Model” (SSCM) in general. Pinker, siding with Chomsky, feels that, not only is the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis wrong, but the basic intellectual stance that “the human psyche is molded by the surrounding culture”, is a dramatic misconception inspired by the SSCM. However, as we see later in the book, Pinker will part ways with Chomsky, ideologically. Though they both feel that grammar is a discrete combinatorial system; and is also a soundly structured tool with words and rules that human beings have an innate tendency to acquire, Chomsky is apprehensive about whether or not this language instinct, or gene, is part of the process of evolutionary adaptation. Pinker feels that the language instinct is similar to the human eye in that it has the appearance of design. In other words, the eye, for human beings, is a tool engineered with a very specific purpose. It has the appearance of design, and elements of an engineered tool, just like a camera, or an engine. The significant point that Pinker does take from Chomsky’s work is his claim that “the same symbol-manipulating machinery, without exception, underlies the world’s languages.”A chapter by chapter synopsis of a book of such layered complexity would become tedious after chapter 5. Everything from Broca’s Aphasia (which can cause language impairment), to x-bar theory (a theoretical version of phrase structure proposed by Chomsky that compares common grammatical rules and structures across different languages), artificial intelligence, prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar, and language organs and grammar genes, is covered in this erudite defense of Universal Grammar. These examples are useful to Pinker because they assist him in elucidating his rational stance on a language of thought. Logic-heavy gems such as, “And if there can be two thoughts corresponding to one word, thoughts can’t be words”, are peppered throughout the book. When he talks about x-bar theory, he explains how, “A part of speech, then, is not a kind of meaning: it is a kind of token that obeys certain formal rules, like a chess piece or a poker chip.” Pinker’s strongest arguments for a Universal Grammar or a language of thought, primarily concern phrase structure within sentences. Chomsky laid much of the ground on syntactic structures in his linguistic work in the 1960’s. But Pinker sees grammar as a technical aspect of language that “offers a clear refutation of the empiricist doctrine that there is nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses.” So, again, the book is covering a lot of linguistic ground concerning academic debates about what language essentially is, but for Pinker, an unabashed devotee of Darwin, The Language Instinct is also about how language is an innate tendency that undergoes evolutionary adaptive processes. He disagrees with the Whorfians and cultural relativists in the sense that he sees grammatical comprehension and language acquisition as innate tendencies. It’s not that he disagrees with the claim that culture can occasionally influence how people speak, or the way a language sounds. Pinker simply believes that there is a common capacity for speech and language utilization across all cultures, and it’s not that different. Again, he refers to the apparent design of language toward the end of chapter 10, entitled “Language Organs and Grammar Genes”, when he reflects, “I would expect the basic design of language, from x-bar syntax to phonological rules and vocabulary structure to be uniform across the species; how else could children learn to talk and adults understand one another.” In the academic arena of linguistics, this debate between people arguing that language is an innate instinct and those that feel that language influences thought is slightly less prominent than it was in the past. In example, one of the strongest claims supporting the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis is that the speakers of the Piraha tribe of South America were incapable of using recursion (inserting embedded clauses within sentences ad infinitum) in their language. In 2004, Peter Gordon conducted an experiment consisting of various counting exercises in order to determine whether or not the Piraha were capable of counting exact cardinalities. He concluded that the Piraha had numbers for one, few, and many, but were incapable of remembering large exact numbers. Gordon’s experimental design was relatively crude, and he merely concluded that the Piraha couldn’t count that well under the conditions of the experiment. Since then, the linguist Andrew Nevins, along with his colleagues concluded that Piraha does allow for some recursive embedding using verb suffixes and conversions of nouns to verbs. It is also possible to conjoin propositions within a sentence, such as “We ate a lot of the fish, but there was some fish that we did not eat." The debunking of linguistic myths such as the apparent absence of recursion in the Piraha language, are concrete proof that Pinker is on to something profound when he suggests an underlying linguistic design in human nature.One might argue that, throughout The Language Instinct, Pinker attempts to insert too many anecdotes from technical linguistics as well as from popular culture. The Language Instinct was one of Pinker’s first popular science books. This onslaught of information is understandable as he is a trained experimental psychologist trying to make technical linguistic explanations understandable to a lay audience. He does so with flying colors. There is also his Darwinist bent, along with the genetic approach to language research, which many traditional linguists (especially academic Whorfians, clearly) might find a little too reductionist. What stands out in this wonderfully informative book is Pinker’s basic, non-threatening theoretical stance that language is part of an adaptive process in nature. There may be notable superficial distinctions across different languages, but the basic structure of language and its apparent design is something that is utilized across all cultures, regardless of location, history, or linguistic origin. For Pinker, culture is not to be devalued or overlooked, but when lost in the cacophonous babel of world languages he opines, “I imagine seeing through the rhythms to the structures underneath, and sense that we all have the same minds.”

The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention

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4.18 rating

Comment 1: Disponibile una copia nuova per lo scambio causa errore nell'ordine su amazon! Se la lingua e il linguaggio vi incuriosiscono, se qualche volta vi siete chiesti perché il verbo essere inglese è l'unico ad avere forme differenti al passato [was/were] o quali siano le forze scatenanti che modificano in continuazione una lingua.. Allora questo libro fa al caso vostro!!Credo che in quasi cinque anni di carriera universitaria questo sia il libro che ho letto con più piacere in assoluto, quello che non è pesato come un macigno o come un onere inderogabile e anzi, mi ha addirittura divertito tantissimo!! L'autore presenta con grande carisma un argomento complicato e intricato come lo sviluppo del linguaggio.. E' un libro adatto a tutti, sia quelli hanno alle spalle esami/letture di linguistica sia chi invece ne è completamente digiuno: tutto è spiegato con estrema chiarezza, ci sono numerosissimi esempi che vi permetteranno di comprendere i suoi ragionamenti e riportarli su un piano più "terreno" e legati all'esperienza quotidiana.Tolte le nozioni "base" che già conoscevo (ma presentate sotto una luce diversa molto più coinvolgente, come ad esempio il fatto che i fratelli Grimm, oltre ad essere degli scrittori erano anche dei pezzi grossi di linguistica che hanno rivoluzionato quel mondo :D), alcune mi hanno davvero sorpreso, ho aggiornato il repertorio del "Ma lo sai perché..."... Sia mai mi risultasse utile per corteggiare qualcuno!! =PUno dei capitoli più interessanti è sicuramente quello sull'analisi della struttura consonantica delle lingue semitiche: poiché il linguaggio è un mezzo per esprimersi, perché mai un popolo dovrebbe usare solo consonanti nella scrittura?! Domanda che, da brava studiosa di arabo, non mi ero mai posta.. E invece mi si è aperto un mondo interessantissimo!!Ho provato a coinvolgere mia mamma nel discorso e trasmetterle il mio entusiasmo per poter dire insieme "Ma che figata!", ma la sua risposta è stata: "Eh, sì.. Per me che non studio lingue semitiche tutto chiarissimo!" :D Ehm!!Tra tutte le chicche che potrete trovare in questo volume, ce ne sono alcune davvero curiose..Una di queste è appunto il verbo essere, l'unico che mantiene due forme distinte al passato: non è questo verbo ad essere l'eccezione ma gli altri verbi che hanno perso la distinzione! Nel passato infatti tutti i verbi inglesi avevano due forme al passato.. Il verbo "be" è rimasto così perché è quello più usato e quindi entrambe le forme venivano apprese e tramandate :)Un'altra parte super interessante è la spiegazione degli errori dei bambini quando apprendono la lingua.. Quante volte abbiamo riso per un "Io piangio" o un "Io vadavo" dei cuginetti o fratellini più piccoli? In realtà la loro è pura e semplice genialità.. Perché tutto ciò che fanno è applicare uno schema che hanno imparato (Io mangio/io giocavo) a tutte le parole che imparano!O ancora.. Quante volte avete detto/sentito che l'inglese non è una lingua come l'italiano perché non si legge come si scrive? In realtà ciò non è completamente esatto.. L'inglese infatti si scrive come si legge(va).. Nel XVI secolo!! :33Se leggete in inglese il libro non vi darà problemi perché è davvero chiaro.. Se invece non leggete in inglese, niente paura!!Ecco che Deutscher ha per voi una carta nascosta: "La lingua colora il mondo" un altro trattato di linguistica che è finito dritto dritto nella mia Wish list e che sono sicura riserverà altre sorprese linguistiche :3

An Introduction to Functional Grammar

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3.65 rating

This third edition of An Introduction to Functional Grammar has been extensively revised. While retaining the organization and coverage of the earlier editions, it incorporates a considerable amount of new material. This includes strengthening the grammar through the use of data from a large-scale corpus, upgrading the description throughout, and giving greater emphasis to the systemic perspective, in which grammaticalization is understood in the context of an overall model of language. The approach taken in the book overcomes the distinction between theoretical and applied linguistics. The description of grammar is grounded in a comprehensive theory, but it is a theory which evolves in the process of being applied.

The Silent Language

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3.8 rating

Comment 1: Let's start by saying that this is, in many ways, an embarrassingly dated work.(lifts up unwieldy metal frame labeled HISTORICAL CONTEXT, tosses it out the window)Edward T. Hall writes with a shocking paucity of empirical evidence, writes entirely in vague assertions and anecdotes, with riffs based on the now highly discredited ideas of functionalist social science, tries to defend the multiplicity of culture while still asserting himself from the position of the all-seeing eye of the American social scientist, makes no attempt to problematize wide-scale stereotypes, writes anthropology for an audience largely consisting of low-rent Don Drapers licking their chops at the opportunity to sell Nescafe in the Cambodian jungle (which they succeeded swimmingly at, btw), writes about cultures as brittle objects for removed from time as if they had no kind of social evolution, and with thick black lines between them, as if they are to be studied with the same patient, introspective gaze you use to look at a Frank Stella abstract.WHEW!(puts on nifty They Live-styled glasses, with HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE written on them in equally nifty futuristic font)At the same time McLuhan was stabbing in the dark when trying to formulate a scientific approach to the scary new world of mass media, a young anthropologist was trying to write about a world in which highly disparate societies had to interact, without resorting to something along the lines of "look at how the savages' flail about in the mud," which unfortunately was how the whole business of anthropology started. He's a humane thinker with an honest desire to improve interhuman communication, and much of his advice is truly helpful for life in a globalized world, despite its glaring flaws. As social science, it doesn't have much to say, but as a set of conjectures, it's really not bad.(pours self a martini, pats self on back)MORAL OF THE STORY:So if you're gonna read The Silent Language, and I think maybe you should, take a cue from Rowdy Roddy, and put on the glasses.

Swearing

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3.67 rating

Comment 1: Yeah, I really wanted to learn more about the history of swearing but sadly I just couldn't wade through any more of this. It's not a bad book per se, it's just that I'm now so far removed from my college days of reading and somewhat comprehending such academic technical-speak that I just can't seem to keep my eyes from going wonky anytime I read more than a paragraph. And that's sad, but I think I'll have to put this one aside and move on to something more fun and non-making-my-eyes-feel-like-t Comment 2: read for a project for my history & structure of the english language class. solid historical look at how swearing has been used throughout history. checked this out from widener library, but i'd like to own this book and be able to come back to it. Comment 3: All you need to know about blasphemy, the origins of swear words and the most popular bad language to cause the most offence at any time down the centuries.

In Search of the Indo-Europeans

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4.05 rating

Comment 1: I really enjoyed this work by J.P. Mallory which is an important read for those who are looking to know more about the cultures of their ancestors. Mallory initially enumerates the various IE cultures starting from Asia and ending with the Celts.I really enjoyed his understanding of the PIE religion relating to the horse and cattle raiding. I found the parts about the stone axes and PIE burials very fascinating. When Mallory tested the Georges Dumezil’s Tripartite theory I began to see the various daughter cultures of the PIE folks in a new light and structure.One excellent thing Mallory does is iterate through all the PIE homeland theories and the evidence that upholds them before telling you how those theories are not likely and saving the most likely theory for last. He pretty much does this for any hypothesis, linguistic or archaeological, throughout the entire book.I pretty much droned out reading the section about the archeology of the Proto-Indo-Europeans but I did take away from it that the Corded ware people became a substrate for the development of the indo-europeans in northern europe.I share Mallory’s assumption that the pontic-caspian steppe is the proper homeland for the PIE folk and I’d go a step further and say they were the Yamanya and Sredny Stog Cultures. I also would exclude the pastoral cultures south of the urals, because though they use Tumulus, the burials do not share the traits of the PIE Kurgan burials.I found it interesting that there were gender based orientations in these burials though persons of both sexes were buried facing south. I wonder the significance of the orientation and the direction.I think it says a lot about the tenacity of people of this early neolithic age culture and their wartime innovations when you look at the map of the world with 75% of the world predominantly speaks or holds and Indo-European Language as its official tongue.I read through the migrations section quickly as Mallory laid the groundwork for these invasions in the earlier parts of this book. Overall, I have a new understanding of Language, and how it plays a major role in cultural expansions of intrusive invaders.

That's Not What I Meant!

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3.92 rating

Comment 1: Although not scientifically written, surprisingly insightful!This book is basically about how each person has a different communication style or frame as a result of coming from different cultures with different expectations. The author believes that the majority of people are trying to be "polite" the majority of the time, but because different people in a conversation may have different communication styles, they may interpret the other person as being "rude". She says that many times differences in conversation styles are attributed to difference in intentions, which is often wrong and can lead to hard feelings. It can explain why arguments can occur when you least expect them to. She also provides plenty of examples of real-life conversations where you can clearly see a miscommunication leading to a fight. It is interesting because as a reader you can clearly understand what both sides are saying, when they themselves cannot. Some examples are comical; many are relateable.This book was really an eye-opener for me. I had always thought that I had the best communication style there is: open, honest, straightforward. This book taught be that 1) No one conversation style is better than another--each one is a result of cultural assumptions, and 2) There is no such thing as open, honest, straightforward communication, because each person brings to a conversation different assumptions about exactly what that means.One other interesting phenomenon mentioned was "complementary schismogenesis", which is when two people try to make a bad situation better by amplifying what they are doing, which makes the situation worse, which makes them try harder, etc. For example, let's say that one person naturally has a louder speaking voice than a second person. In a conversation the first person will subconsciously think that the other person is talking too quietly so he will raise his volume; the second person will react by subconsciously "setting a good example" by lowering his volume; this will cause the first person to speak louder, etc. until the first person is screaming and the second person is whispering and they both hate each other. The lesson is that often we try to fix relationship problems (which may be just communication problems to begin with) by amplifying the very communication style that is causing the problem. Instead, we should be conscious of our conversation partner's preferred style and adapt accordingly.As a result of reading this book, I have been more conscious of other people's communication styles. As the author says at the end, simply being conscious of it is comforting. I am also trying to adjust my communication style to my conversation partner to try to improve communication.

The New Fowler's Modern English Usage

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4.22 rating

Comment 1: I have had this 1986 edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage on my bookshelf for over thirty years, and it really is a key text for any writer, as I was reminded this weekend in conversation with Frank Moorhouse at the Sydney Writers Festival - his wonderful essay 'Is Writing a Way of Life?' in the latest Meanjin mentions that as a young journalist, he read a page of Fowler's a day. I'm not sure I ever tackled it in quite the same disciplined manner, but I definitely dog-eared its pages. Settin Comment 2: Fowler’s advice, his examples, and inherent relevance show some wear, but nothing that the author’s sense of humour doesn’t amply recompense. I speak of this 1968 edition. The few more flavourful entries that I was able to search for in a 1996 edition were either non-existent or effectively bowdlerised. What’s left nowadays is the bland and spartan, but most pragmatic, dictionary-speak. Comment 3: Years ago, I fell in love with Fowler's righteous wrath, his irony, his impeccable use of Oxford comma. Whenever I feel down, I open this book and read a random entry. Should you

The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language

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3.94 rating

Comment 1: It's been a long time since I enjoyed a book this much. I was already pretty familiar with the author from the BBC podcast, In Our Time. I've long been impressed by Bragg's ability to discuss a wide variety of topics with intelligence spanning humanities, social sciences, history, math and natural sciences, but I hadn't noticed until recently that he is an author and most of his books seems to be on topics surrounding the English language.Bragg traces the development of English from a minor Germanic dialect crossing the ocean in the fifth century through modern day. He looks at wide-ranging influences on the language and influences that it has had on our lives and history.The book was extremely thought-provoking. For instance, one of my long-standing internal conflicts concerns the fixing of linguistic forms such as grammar, word usage, etc.On one hand, I feel deeply that language can be used well or poorly. Distinctions of usage, grammar and pronunciation matter to me and seem objective rather than arbitrary. I don't mean this in the sense that Chomsky does -- I have no opinion about inborn distinctions. Instead I mean that language is used to describe the world, and that strict adherence to linguistic rules provides sharper-edged distinctions both in thought and communication.On the other hand, I appreciate the modern, popular view that language ought to be just what it is, and that the task of grammar, etc., is to describe how people use language rather than to prescribe it. It is rather arbitrary after all to declare the pinnacle of language usage to be how educated folk of your grandparent's generation spoke. Further, I delight in dialects and accents. I play with neologism. I speak differently in different contexts and break rules as often as follow them.There is a deep contradiction here and I've known it for a long time. It is easy to invent sophistries to reconcile these positions, but I've been more comfortable to just recognize it as a mistake and one that I can't immediately correct. With that, I go on cheerfully cringing, though I've for many years felt it was rude to comment, when people saddle et cetera with a 'k' sound. I think about that vs. which as the distinction still is not automatic for me. I beat out of myself the Pittsburgh-born tendency to be discourteous to participles paired with need, want or like, as in "The floor needs cleaned." or "The dog wants fed," even though those don't even sound wrong to me. At the same time, I was delighted when a fellow Yinzer, earlier today, unselfconsciously started a line in an instant message with, "If I'm not being too nebby..."Tracing the entire life of English with this book caused me to think deeply about the dynamic, evolving nature of the language. It has made me more comfortable with change. It becomes more difficult to be stuffy about not accepting "made up" words hearing the rants of those decades or centuries past offering tirades against words I accept as not only standard but as excellent. It is hard to look down upon pronunciation of ask like aks in contemplating that it is the form similar to old English. Well, I'll probably still look down on it, but without the comfort of being able to do because it is bastardization of proper usage. I guess that's central to what I'm losing -- that sense of propriety.It isn't all loss, or even mostly so. This book inspires replacing claims of correctness with a desire to use language beautifully. Whether mining value from classical constructions or inventing, striving for precision or expressiveness, speaking or writing, The Adventure of English inspires a deeper and move loving relationship with the language. It also lends courage to use language as a source of identity. It's remarkable how often that's been central to its role throughout its history! I can delight in nebby and reject aks as part of identification with a certain culture. I can use which and that on the basis of providing a legitimate sharper edge to thought and reject "He be sleeping on the couch" just as readily though it provides an aspect of the verb not as easily or elegantly achieved otherwise (in indicating that it he frequently or habitually sleeps...) despite its utility, on the basis of it breaking with my notion of linguistic identity rather than some claim to its being wrong.More than anything else, the book is exciting and interesting. It is a heap big task to take on writing an adventure story about the evolution of a language. I think Bragg did an excellent job.I know... tl;dr. ;-)

On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures

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4.2 rating

Comment 1: This book contains the transcripts of 5 lectures given at the Universidad Centroamerica (UCA) in Managua, Nicaragua in early 1986. The lectures outline Chomsky's views on U.S. foreign policy with a specific focus on Latin America and the then-ongoing contra war that the U.S. was waging against the Sandinista government.In Chomsky's view, U.S. foreign policy is guided by the need to secure U.S. interests (primarily corporate business interests) rather than by the ideals of human rights and democracy that are typically the stated goals. This leads to consistent U.S. support for right-wing factions in other countries, even murderous ones, and to oppose left-wing movements, even peaceful democratically elected ones. Paraphrasing JFK, the U.S. prefers to support democracies, but will support "a Trujillo" (right-wing dictator) if that is what is needed to prevent "a Castro."Chomsky marshalls an impressive level of evidence for his hypothesis -- skillfully deploying internal U.S. documents and letting the sordid history of U.S. 20th century involvement in Latin America speak for itself. It's hard to disagree with this thesis after learning the history of the Contra War in Nicaragua, or the civil war in El Salvador, or the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, or numerous other examples.Having read a lot of Chomsky in my time (I took a fantastic class on him in college), my main gripe with him is his rhetorical style. One could quibble with his analysis and the way he bulldozes over wrinkles and complications, but his role as a counter-narrator is important and vital. More problematic is how he revels in making statements that are shockingly counter to mainstream U.S. political discourse, but then characterizing those statements as "obvious" and not deserving much in the way of supporting argumentation. More often than not this comes off as anti-pedagogical, and I can only imagine fuels his marginalization. If you're not already on board with his analysis he doesn't exactly lead you by the hand. Probably since he's been railing against the mainstream consensus for so many decades now it might be hard to muster the effort anymore. Over time he tends to repeat himself as well, such that one can almost predict what phrase he is going to use in advance.Still, Chomsky is essential reading for understanding U.S. foreign policy, even if you don't necessarily buy into every facet of his analysis. At this point in my life I'm more interested in writers and thinkers who can communicate outside the choir, so I am always wishing that Chomsky would engage more with the mainstream and rather than simply dismissing that position. Still this volume of lectures is actually a pretty good, and brief, introduction to his thinking.(In one of the Q&As included here there is an interesting moment as Chomsky smacks down the suggestion from a questioner that the USSR -- at that moment a Nicaraguan ally -- is better than the US. As hard as he is on the US, he brooks no suggestion that the Soviet Union was anything other than a brutal and repressive dictatorship.)[First read this for a class in college, back in early 1997. Re-reading it now because... Managua!]

Course in General Linguistics

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3.95 rating

Comment 1: A particular word is like the center of a constellation; it is the point of convergence of an indefinite number of co-ordinated terms.I once wondered how cavemen thought without language. Did they think in images? And for a person who’s bilingual: which language do they reason in? While in both cases I took for granted the thinking-in-words phenomenon I didn’t put 2+2 together. I didn’t realize, not fully, how integrated language and abstraction were. Little did I know that Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist from the late 19th century, asked the same questions. He was the first person to pursue this train of thought and determine who was boss: thoughts or words. For most of history we assumed the former, with unpopular rhetoricians claiming the latter. After all (as it said in Genesis) we gave names to things. Things, clearly, came first. But in his Course on General Linguistics—a class he taught at the University of Geneva whose students’ notes were combined into a book—a book that became the foundation of modern linguistics—Saussure argued that words and thoughts are two sides of the same coin. Neither preceded the other.The invention here is called a ‘sign.’ A sign is a form where one side is a ‘signifier’ (the word tree) and on the other a ‘signified’ (mental concept of a tree). This bears repeating. A signifier and signified are always connected; they cannot be broken apart. You cannot think of a tree unless you know what a tree is. Now, you may say: “Wait what? You can think of a tree without a word for tree!” To which I would… agree with you. Unless I’ve missed something (very possible) Saussure doesn’t acknowledge signifieds before signifiers. I assume cavemen thought in images. But honestly, this probably doesn’t matter. Consciousness and mouth-noises were too unwieldy by themselves. The incredible accomplishment of language was melding one arbitrary sound with an arbitrary concept until all of the latter and much of the former were reduced to recognizable and useable units (an ‘articulus’). Thus instead of trying to think of an elaborate mental scenario that taxed our memories, we formed convenient linguistic and conceptual sequences: ‘A squirrel was climbing a tree to escape from the fox.’In other words, instead of language being a tool for thought, it is thought. We think in sounds. And yes, while we do occasionally think in images (and create art in images) we often translate them into sounds for convenience sake. Thus something completely abstract gains tangibility. Now of course language is also communication, not simply clarification, and so society at large utilizes these signs. The community polices the use of words so they remain constant; language is a democratic social convention. I say democratic because signs change. Over time new words spring up, old ones gain new meaning, and the whole system is affected. That’s because all linguistic signs are interdependent: they reference and recall each other. Think of it as a sort of competition. Each sign exists because it combines a useful concept with an utterable sound. If another sign accomplished one of these better the old sign would become obsolete or change. Another influence is through associations, which is what my quote above is explaining. A word calls to mind other words, other concepts, and even other sounds (alliteration for example). Language is a complex web that simultaneously changes and stays the same, is public and private, and manages to be both tangible and abstract. The ramifications of the sign duality are astonishing.By the way the new field that Saussure created with this discovery is called Semiology—the study of signs—of which language is only one component. Its main use is in advertising where images and text are meticulously chosen to elicit the appropriate response in an audience. I was actually first introduced to some of these topics when I studied speed reading. The process of verbalization, where when we read a word we verbalize it in our heads was discouraged and we were taught to translate a word/sentence as an image in our minds, cutting out the unnecessary middle bit. Thus reading was performed from up to down the page, not left to right. Saussure also discussed syntagms, where in speech words are given/taken in linear sequence, and their arrangement is significant. But in text this is unnecessary. While poets and orators may bemoan this last point we must admit the truth: the brain doesn’t think linearly. We consume a book to reorder and reorganize its contents in our minds, where the text goes from a sequence of letters—no matter how beautiful—to a fully realized mental picture. But the important part is that the linguistic usage of the art, or more accurately the sign usage, is what determines our conception of the message/experience.Indeed this is what it comes down to, for me at least. What Saussure’s course suggests is that linguistic vocabulary and grammar are paramount for fruitful thinking. While it’s certainly not guaranteed, more words make it easier to articulate ideas. And not just articulate, but create. Thus in regards to art it’s the intelligent and creative use of signs that enhance and organize our consciousness. More than a mere symbol, the married relationship of signifiers and signifieds are the atoms of understanding. Without them we’d still be thinking like cavemen, trying against frustration to give body to our thoughts.

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

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3.87 rating

Comment 1: I am a big fan of Steven Pinker. I think he's a very smart man, and a great advocate for science and reason in the public sphere. In interviews, he's witty, informed, and able to make concise points about a vast swath of intellectual topics. His book The Blank Slate had a very significant impact on me when I read it in late 2011. I had just finished a teaching credential program and was unsure about my next step in life; one of the only things I knew I wanted to do for sure was to read and self-educate as much as possible. The Blank Slate helped me understand psychology via methods I didn't encounter in my undergraduate philosophy classes, and pointed me in directions that would further integrate my love of philosophical inquiry with a more scientifically-informed perspective. Pinker is famous for being polemical and is often disparaged by conservatives and liberals alike, but I typically find his opinions to be well-reasoned and as responsibly middle-of-the-road as possible. Even so, my respect for Pinker was not enough to guide me contentedly through this book, which I generally found repetitive, esoteric, and––worst of all––boring. Though he has suffered much criticism for his flouting of traditional psychological theories and the pleasure he seems to take in prodding people toward revisiting their foundational ideas and values, I actually think Pinker is at his best when he has a bone to pick. If I had to identify just one reason why this book didn't work for me, it would be that Pinker doesn't have anyone to argue against––no unifying target on which to set his intellectual sights. There are a couple minor exceptions to this, the first of which is Pinker's advocacy for the theory of conceptual semantics, which he posits as superior to extreme nativism, linguistic determinism, and radical pragmatics (all of which Pinker portrays as rather extreme positions, possibly falling into straw man territory). In another chapter, Pinker challenges Johnson and Lakoff's theory of metaphor with varying success, making a few good points but also portraying their theory as far more relativistic than it truly is. These are interesting but not hotly controversial arguments, and neither provides the kind of overarching strength that would provide the book with a firm thematic backbone. The rest of the book is essentially a group of loosely related chapters that all center around the idea that "language is a window into human nature"––a claim I can't imagine anyone trying to refute. So while this might represent the side of Pinker who is more concerned with responsible scholarship in his particular field of study rather than shaking things up in town square, I didn't find the premise intriguing enough to explore with much enthusiasm. This book also reminded me why I studied philosophy instead of linguistics. Past a certain point, I just don't care enough about the intricacies of language. When I feel like the conversation has traveled away from pragmatic explications of how language helps or hinders people and toward abstruse descriptions of grammatical and speech constructions, I begin to check out. To be fair, Pinker does include many examples of how such rules can be relevant to the lives of normal people, but over the course of the book I wasn't convinced that most of the topics were adding anything significant to my understanding of people's relationship with language. This disappointment is probably my fault more than Pinker's. I've read many popular science books over the last few years, so I was already familiar with much of his research, some of which was probably cutting-edge when the book was first published in 2007. However, many of the insights found here would no longer be considered news to anyone with a passing interest in modern psychology. As a result, the information that was new to me almost exclusively had to do with obscure linguistic theories I'd never heard of, and I finished the book feeling like there are probably many good reasons for that. Much of the first half felt like repeated instances of Pinker saying gleefully: "You can do this with language, but you can't do that! And it's all because of this: (insert recondite linguistic theory here)!" This approach sent me spiraling into inanition, and also opened the way for an additional problem: Pinker occasionally comes off as being imperialistic with language rules in a way that excludes the important contributions of poets and creative writers, who often work very hard to challenge or reformulate traditional methods of usage and structure. There are definitely some strong points to be found in these pages. Pinker includes many visual aids that helped me understand some of the finer points of grammar that have eluded me over the years, which made me wish such aids were more widely used in junior high and high school classrooms. Ironically, sometimes an image is a better vehicle for explaining a language construction than language itself. He also offers some good information about why early exposure to linguistic conventions is so crucial in developing the basic tools for success in modern education. In my experience, this is especially important when the time comes in adolescence for young people to start formulating their ideas using academic concepts, abstract language, and advanced argumentation. Finally, the second to last chapter provides salient (if not exactly solution-based) explanations of why people have such a difficult time with directness, causing us to create all kinds of elaborate ways to communicate without having to take full responsibility for the possible negative outcomes of our intimations to others. This is an important issue in social life, but I was dissatisfied that Pinker didn't offer many thoughts about how we can overcome this problem; he seemed more concerned with justifying why it is okay for people to avoid being open about their motives and desires. I'm not naive enough to advocate for complete honesty all the time, but I think our social lives would improve immensely if we consciously developed new linguistic and behavioral mechanisms for being upfront about what we want from ourselves and others, while still allowing a safe space for people to give potentially disappointing responses to our entreaties. It's a tough project, but one with potentially huge gains for quality of life. I wonder if Pinker would agree. I'm sure this is a great book for the right kind of reader. For those who don't enjoy Pinker's snarky side, this would perhaps be a better choice than one of his works in which he seeks to subvert what he perceives as unfounded popular beliefs or sentiments. This is in no way a book rife with objectionable claims or disingenuous scholarship––it's just not my cup of tea.

A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

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4.22 rating

This book is intended for general; students and teachers of English; anyone wanting guidance on the correct use of English.

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language

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4.2 rating

Comment 1: This is an interesting book that deals with the origin of various English words. Etymology can be a rather dry subject for most people, but what makes this book engaging is the way the author has drawn connections between different words, each word forming links in the string of words that he has woven into string, doing ample justice to the title of the book. You get to know fascinating nuggets of trivia, like how the word 'monkey' was inspired from 'monk' - so much for the gravitas of the medi Comment 2: Funny, interesting and engrossing. Forsyth has a wonderfully engaging style as he charges through the English language at full pelt, a phrase I am sure he could enlighten us as to the origins of in a most entertaining manner. The Etymologicon is a thorough trip through the roots of our language and the strange connections between words we might never expect to be related, with a few forays into Latin, French, German, Greek and the other various languages English has borrowed from, stolen from, o Comment 3: Super fun and easy read with all sorts of great little bits of stories and useless knowledge. Many weird facts that just make sense when you dig into them. My only small complaint about the book is that I want to tell everyone every cool little thing that I read in there, but it's hard to remember anything because there's so much of it. This might be an ideal book to put in a accessible bookshelf that's a bit more accessible to a temporary user who can immediately share. At least that's what I'l

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think

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3.98 rating

Comment 1: I read this book for a logic class my sophomore year of college. Following is the paper I wrote in hopes of defusing Lakoff's argument. In Moral Politics, George Lakoff gives us two models for running a family—the strict father and the nurturant parent. He then attempts to show that these are also the conservative and liberal models for government, and explains why the nurturant parent/liberal government model is superior to its counterpart. This paper will attempt to show that his underlying suppositions are false and that the conservative model of government is in fact superior to the liberal model.tAfter more than five sections and three hundred pages of reiterating the difference between the two family models, and how these models fit various political issues, Lakoff finally makes an argument for a liberal form of government in pages 335-388. However, almost half of this argument is a chapter entitled “Raising Real Children” in which he shows that that the nurturant parent model is the superior one for raising a family. He may very well be correct in this, but the time he spends discussing family reveals a major weakness in his argument regarding government.tOn page 258, Lakoff uses the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden in a metaphorical sense—it represents being sheltered in infancy, while the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents leaving home and reaching independence. Whether his interpretation of the book of Genesis is correct is irrelevant. However, he is absolutely correct in saying that in childhood we are protected and cared for by our family, and that in later life we reach a state of more freedom, but also responsibility.tThis brings to light a major problem in his “family” models of government—what works in a home to raise children may not necessarily work on the vast scale of government. To begin with, children and adults are very different. Parents should be nurturant and forgiving and tolerant to their children; their children are young, innocent, naïve, and need a lot of help, love, and instruction. But later in life, when the children reach adulthood, they are no longer able to have their parents fill all their needs. Should they therefore go to the government as a kind of “new parent” when their biological or adoptive parents have passed away or are no longer able to provide for them?tOf course it seems apparent that eventually adults must learn responsibility. That is not to say that the government should not help people who are truly in need and have no means of livelihood, but the role of the government is to protect its citizens and give them opportunity, helping when it is necessary. But, its role should not be that of a “parent.”tAnother challenge to Lakoff’s argument lies in the “dependence” problem. That is, if the government takes the role of a loving parent, people will adapt and learn that they do not have to work to survive. Though he brings up the problem as a complaint from conservatives, no where do I see a response to it—he instead dismisses it as being unimportant next to the virtue of kindness. The problem with a government whose main aim is to be kind is the question: kind to whom? It may be kind to give money to the poor, but if that means raising taxes, it is also taking money from someone who has earned it. Whatever laws are passed, some parties will benefit and others will suffer. Of course there must be compromise, and the government must take taxes and help those who are unable to provide for themselves and their families, but Lakoff almost seems to imply a “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” manner of rhetoric.tLakoff creates yet another contradiction on page 254 when he says, regarding the conservative and liberal interpretations of the Bible “if you have a Strict Father interpretation, you need not use the Nation as a Family metaphor to project Strict Father morality onto the public domain.” If this is true, it defuses the very basis of his argument; isn’t the point of the book that morality and religion are the backbone of American politics and government? That it is truly impossible to separate morality, religion, and politics into separate spheres?tWhy is the conservative model of government superior to the liberal model? Referring back to Lakoff’s interpretation of the Genesis story, and his demonstration that nurturance is the best policy for raising children, the answer can be put very simply: the government concerns adults.tIt is true that there is no one way to be a parent; if there was, surely everyone would know of this wonder method and practice it. As it is, there are thousands of books describing as many methods for raising children— empathy, reward systems, physical discipline, non-physical discipline, etc. With that said, in the chapter “Raising Real Children,” which is essentially the first half of Lakoff’s real argument, he sets forth a very solid argument for the nurturant parent model of child rearing.tBut generally, children are reared by their parents (or close relatives, or step-parents, or adoptive parents). And, also generally, the only authority to which an adult ultimately answers (other than his conscience and his God) is the government. And so, the family should be organized in a manner conducive to the rearing of children, and the government should be organized in a manner conducive to the regulation of the activities of adults.tLakoff presents many issues in Moral Politics, and they are too many to cover here. But perhaps explanation of a few key issues will serve to demonstrate why a government should behave differently than a family.tFor example, he accuses conservatives of spending too much time and effort on military defense. In a family following the Strict Father model, this translates to the father’s number one priority being the physical defense of his family, at the cost of helping them in other ways.tNow, a suburban father stockpiling guns and other home defense mechanisms might be damaging to a child’s upbringing, and would certainly seem somewhat paranoid, or at least eccentric. But a major reason it would seem strange is that suburban neighborhoods are generally safe places. There are better ways to be a parent than simply waiting to shoot someone who threatens your child.tBut when applied to government, spending on defense makes much more sense. After all, there are always threats to the country, recently during the Cold War, and now because of the threat of terrorism. To acknowledge a very real danger is not paranoid; we know very well that a large part of the world would like to see our country destroyed. True, our military seems so huge and powerful that it could probably scare off an attack by a coalition of five or ten other countries’ militaries without a fight… but isn’t that what we want? If the government failed to protect the country from physical danger from communists, terrorists, or other parties who would seek to destroy the country, all other freedoms and government benefits—from freedom of business, to welfare, to the most basic freedoms of speech and expression—would be meaningless. Thus, it makes perfect sense for a government’s major priority to be the physical defense of its citizens, rather than their nurturance.tAnother major issue of the book is that of government aid to the poor. Of course, both sides agree that someone incapable of providing for himself (the handicapped, the recently laid off, etc.) should be given some help by the government. But for how long? Should the government give money to everyone who wants it, or only to those who are in deepest need?tLakoff says that children need to be helped, and by continuous helping they can be trained to succeed. This is very true. Nonetheless, when the issue concerns adults, and not children, the conservative views on limited welfare fit much better than the liberal views. That is to say, children are inexperienced and need constant help and reinforcement. Adults, on the other hand, are usually physically and mentally capable of helping themselves. The conservative, and much hated, “Welfare to Work” act passed during Clinton’s administration is a good example—is a few years of welfare insufficient time for a capable adult to get back on his feet after a job loss or other crisis?tIn short, Lakoff’s argument is flawed on a very basic level—the models of family he discusses are a good way to discover they most effective ways of raising children, but not regulation of adult activities, simply because children and adults are very different and should be treated as such. A liberal, nurturant, method of raising children is probably preferable to a strict, conservative method. But, when the child grows up, he will be ready to live as an adult under a government which treats him accordingly.

Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

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3.87 rating

Comment 1: This is the kind of books that change you view towards many life aspects, it makes you muse about language, culture, religion, people and a lot of things. There are a lot of interesting things about the Pirahã people, from their happiness to their "immediacy of experience" principles. The most important thing about them is the failed attempts of any sort of assimilation or conversion for 300 years! Also, the Pirahã language challenges the, de facto omnipresent, Chomskyan linguistic theories that Comment 2: Daniel Everett is a linguist and a former Christian missionary. Starting in 1977, he spent 30 years living with his family among the Pirahã people, a tribe of several hundred hunters-gatherers residing in a few riverside villages in Brazil's state of Amazonas. Although the Pirahã had first been contacted by the outside world in the 18th century, before Everett no outsider had been able to learn their language, the last surviving member of its language family; speakers of the other languages in t Comment 3: I've studied a bit of linguistics over the years, which kept me interested through the more scientific sections of the book. People without that background might find it a little heavy on detail. This shouldn't put anyone off though, as this is a fascinating read, as much a treatise on how we in the west perceive the world around us as an exploration of life in one of the remotest areas of the Amazon. The Pirahá tribe live in something like an exulted state of presence. Everett, who initially se

Optimality Theory: Constraint Interaction In Generative Grammar

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4.4 rating

This book is the final version of the widely-circulated 1993 Technical Report that introduces a conception of grammar in which well-formedness is defined as optimality with respect to a ranked set of universal constraints. Final version of the widely circulated 1993 Technical Report that was the seminal work in Optimality Theory, never before available in book format. Serves as an excellent introduction to the principles and practice of Optimality Theory. Offers proposals and analytic commentary that suggest many directions for further development for the professional.

Analysing Sentences

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3.78 rating

Comment 1: Read this for the syntax portion of my second term of university English. Very pedagogical and well-structured, imo. Didn't read ch 11 I'll admit but hey, how much could one chapter bring the assessment down? Comment 2: FUCK YEAAAAAHHHH, this brings back memories...and shivers, and that feeling you get when you see that little girl from "Ring" crawling out of the well. Comment 3: It explained everything so neatly making everything sound so easy, and then it posed questions which were dubious and unitelligeble. Comment 4: Clear explanation of the syntax of the English language. I found it a very pleasant book to study from.

A Theory of Semiotics

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3.99 rating

Comment 1: I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of language philosophy as the perfect counter point in which to observe what language does do rather than to meditate on how it does it. The other thing that is so refreshing about Eco is just how readable he is at the same time as conveying a great many very difficult concepts: Eco has no need to disguise ideas in murky rhetoric because he is a genuine intellectual who understands a great many complex phenomena.There are of course many points on which I disagree with Eco: I feel in places he seems to bizarrely undermine the role of context, and he also seems to undermine the untranslatable modes of genuine communication that are particular to various mediums preferring to stress the multifarious manifestations that a given sign can take.Ultimately I feel it is a massive injustice that a great many french structuralists have been given credit for there contributions to understanding language as well as a great many anglo-american philosopher, and whereas their epiphanies have often resided in their wonder at what they don't understand, Eco has been given very little credit for providing genuine solid ground work for genuinely understanding and getiing to the very root of a great many social phenomena.

Word and Object

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3.99 rating

Comment 1: Word and Object is a masterpiece in modern philosophy and, as I worked through it, I was struck by how much more contemporary discussions in the domain make when I have Quine for context. The book sets up a number of the problems that Quine poses for historical views in philosophy of language, like problems with vagueness and translation, and then Quine offers an alternative account of how to develop a (highly naturalized) philosophical programme. The book has passages that are a bit dated, where good responses to Quine have been developed, but that is pretty normal, and the fact that those responses are available, and have implications for the views they were meant to defend is very important and very useful.Many people are ultimately just not able to accept Quine's positions, or even his critiques of many arguments, but the reasons that we find ourselves unable to accept portions of Quine unacceptable are important too. Are we committed to the idea that translation between languages and idiolects has to be possible? Why? In finding our reasons for rejecting parts of Quine, we learn a lot about the role of our positions in our larger views about philosophy.The book is excellently written, though a bit convoluted in some places and a bit excessively technical in others. The majority of the book is lucid, insightful and engaging, even to those outside of philosophy. Those interested in linguistics and the role of philosophy in interacting with semantics and approaches to translation will get a lot out of Quine, and hopefully understand some of the eccentricities of modern philosophical approaches to semantics and their relation to logic, features of the philosophical landscape that may seem odd given their stark contrast to conventional views in linguistics advanced by Chomsky, and even a number of philosophers (like Montague) later.I recommend the book to those interested in philosophy of language and metaphysics, though the angle on language is especially useful. It should probably be used as an introductory text for those getting into the discipline, despite the philosophical jargon that rides heavily on the later sections.

How to Do Things with Words

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3.94 rating

Comment 1: I happened to run into Bill Bryson the other evening on a deserted street somewhere in Geneva. On impulse, as one does, I mugged him and stole his latest manuscript. It turned out to be a potted history of philosophy. Here's an extract for your delectation.Once upon a time, there was a philosopher called Frege, who had the interesting idea that language and logic were really, you know, pretty much the same thing. He invented predicate calculus, which was the best shot to date at making sense out of that particular approach. For example (this always comes up, for some reason), in English you might say "John loves Mary", and in predicate calculus you would write it aslove'(john', mary')You have two constants, john' representing John, and mary' representing Mary, and the predicate love' obtains between them. Some people, Bertrand Russell being a notable example, liked Frege's insight. They picked it up and improved it. And then, in 1921, a young Austrian called Ludwig Wittgenstein published the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which was meant to finish the job. Language, explained Wittgenstein, consisted of "pictures", the predicate calculus expressions, which "connected to the world". I first came across the Tractatus when I was about 17, and I remember looking at it and trying to figure out how this connection was supposed to work. It didn't seem to be very clearly explained, and I wondered what I wasn't getting. But at the time, Wittgenstein thought he'd cracked the problems of philosophy. He retired, and did other things that were more fun.After a while, Wittgenstein started to have misgivings. Maybe it wasn't all about logic: in fact, language often doesn't seem to be logical at all. (I know. You could have told him that, right? But Great Philosophers prefer to work it out by themselves). He started compiling a huge quantity of notes, which were meant to outline a new theory. These eventually saw the light as the Philosophical Investigations, an impressive mess. Wittgenstein apologised "for not writing a better book", but he managed to convince many of his colleagues that logic may not in fact be the right way to think about what language means.And so we get up to Austin, one of Wittgenstein's brightest students, who wrote How To Do Things With Words. He probably wasn't as inspired as his master, but he was certainly much better organised. One key insight immediately found favour. There are some ways of using words that do indeed seem to be about describing the world; but there are others that are about interacting with it. As Austin pointed out, when the Mayor says "I now pronounce you man and wife", she isn't describing anything. She makes something happen by virtue of what she says. And, when you think a little more, you see that this is the top of a linguistic iceberg. "Performatives", as Austin called them, are very common. It's not just marrying people: it's a bunch of other things, like making promises, or issuing threats, or asking questions. Austin suggested some more useful terms, which were also enthusiastically adopted, and now everyone in linguistics talks about locutionary acts, perlocutionary acts and illocutionary force. The standard example is someone asking "Is there any salt?" The locutionary act is a question about the presence of salt, but the perlocutionary act is causing somebody to hand you the salt. The illocutionary force is a command to give you salt.Austin had a bright student of his own, called Searle, and Searle took the ideas further. He wrote a book called Speech Acts, where he described different kinds of illocutionary acts. And then Searle had a student called Vanderveken, and together they developed a framework for writing down speech acts as formulas, in a new framework they called illocutionary logic.So, in three academic generations, linguistic philosophers had found their way back to logic again, just a different kind of logic. I wonder why this doesn't leave me feeling happier?

The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

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3.83 rating

Comment 1: Un giallo Vittoriano, con atmosfere cupe e fuligginose. Un trattato che enuncia i primi rudimenti di filologia. Una breve storia della Guerra di Secessione Americana. Una sintesi di storia della psichiatria. Un’ode al potere delle parole, e all’importanza della cura con cui dovrebbero essere trattate. Questo libro è tutte queste cose, e molte altre ancora. Winchester affascina per l’equilibrio che costantemente mantiene tra erudizione e fluidità narrativa. La sua passione per questa storia è con Comment 2: We live in the days of the information age where dependence on technology and its never-ending stream of portable electronic devices serve as a means to promulgate the use of "text-speak" and relegate the great art of letter writing and conversation to be seen as old fashioned and verbose. There are a dying number of lexicographers and etymologists that will always be fascinated by and loyal to the written word, especially in its printed and bound medium. This is a tale of history that is witty, Comment 3: This was my literary homework this month. Truly a truth is sometimes stranger than fiction account of two men who had a major part in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. The process started in 1857 and took 70 years to complete. Professor James Murray, a former teacher and banker was the editor in charge, and came up with the idea of having outside workers ( somewhere near 10,000 ) read books written in the latter part of the 1500's and forward, and submit words of note along with whe

Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom from History's Greatest Wordsmiths

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3.77 rating

Comment 1: I learned from this book that I really hate it when an author tells me what something is "really" saying. I don't like to be spoon-fed, apparently. I love quotation compilations and the absurd. I thought this book was written just for me! Turns out, it was written just to showcase how clever the author is. Sigh. I want to be the clever one. I want to read the collected quotations exemplifying the ideal of the oxymoron, and chuckle quietly, silently congratulating myself on my ability to "get it. Comment 2: Dr. Mardy Grothe has put together a great little collection of wit. His introduction and discussions are a little pedantic but I like the background detail. Since this is a collection of quotes you don't really sit down and read it cover to cover. It's the type of book that you like to have around to browse and laugh with occasionally. It has some of the best examples of wit and wordplay from the western world and I highly recommend it to those who enjoy clever observations of life and society. Comment 3: Bookworms, meet your new favorite wordworm: Mardy Grothe. A psychologist by trade, this language lover culled about 1,400 oxymoronic phrases for "Oxymoronica" from his growing collection numbering near 10,000. Packaging them into chapters thematically makes for a satisfying reflection on the quotations of an eclectic mix of history's authors, philosophers, actors, and other memorable dynamos.

English as She Is Spoke: Being a Comprehensive Phrasebook of the English Language, Written by Men to Whom English was Entirely Unknown

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3.86 rating

Comment 1: I have to admit to really loving Engrish.com and all the various other varieties of English that are twisted out of recognition. It is the closest I come to doing cryptic crossword puzzles, well, other than talking with my intellectually disabled older sister. I once bought an Asian Santa toy thing that laughed when you knocked it. Not so much for the laugh (which was more spooky than seasonal or joyous) but for what was written on the box it came in. The toy was called, ‘Can’t Invert With Laugh’. I laughed, it didn’t invert – truth in advertising!Recently I read a book called Carpe Diem and I’m almost certain that this book was mentioned there. Basically this is Monty Python about a century before Monty Python. Take one Portuguese gentleman with virtually no knowledge of English (as she is either spoke or wrote) and give him an English – French and a Portuguese – French dictionary and phrase book, tell him to write a book of conversational English and then sit back and enjoy. I’ve just spotted this on Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/30411 and it takes no time at all to read. Do yourself a favour…Now, I’m going to quote a couple of my favourites:In the phrasebook there are sections on common things you might need the words for whilst travelling around England – but under foods my favourite was ‘Vegetables boiled to a pap’ – God, even the Portuguese know about English cooking.‘These apricots and these peaches make me and to come water in mouth.’‘This ink is white.’ (It is almost surreal, isn’t it?)‘I have mind to vomit.’‘Have you understanded?’‘Take that boy and whip him to much.’The weather is both a standard topic of conversation the world over and unlikely to get you into trouble – so here are some conversation starters sure to work a treat: ‘ We shall have a fine weather to day. There is some foggy. I fear of the thunderbolt. The sun rise on. The sun lie down. It is light moon's.’And it is always nice to have a bit of a chat with your hairdresser: ‘Your razors, are them well? Yes, Sir. Comb-me quickly; don't put me so much pomatum. What news tell me? all hairs dresser are newsmonger. Sir, I have no heared any thing.’He ends with a series of proverbs, and I’m particularly fond of a good proverb – some of them I can pick, like ‘It want to beat the iron during it is hot.’ Some are a little harder, ‘He is beggar as a church rat.’ And some, well? ‘Friendship of a child is water into a basket’ or ‘To fatten the foot’.There were so many things I really needed to do this morning – oh well…

The Stories of English

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4.03 rating

Comment 1: This is hands-down the best one-dollar buy I’ve purchased in quite some time, as I picked up a barely-read hardback copy of this five-hundred-page-plus tome last weekend at Half-Price Books’ annual warehouse sale. (Which, tax-included, would have made it $1.09. But who’s quibbling here?) The subject matter is clearly massive here, unlike his shorter but just as erudite works in the past decade like Words, Words, Words, The Fight for English and By Hook or by Crook. In a nutshell, The Stories of English is Crystal’s comprehensive attempt at providing a layman’s collection of linguistic essays on the development of our beloved mother tongue that is not as daunting as his textbook the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (a work that I have yet, and even fear, to pick up due to its sheer weight and heft.)While there is not particular theme that stands out, other than linguistic change over time, here are some nuggets of brainy goodness that I ran across and which piqued my interest to no end.1.tOur modern preference for subject-verb-object order was hardly the norm during the Old and Middle English periods, as object-verb-subject occurred more frequently in Old English texts that have survived and been analyzed.2.tThe modern word murder comes from the Latin murdrum, which in turn was found in Old English as mordor (the “d” being a slightly different and now extant letter that was pronounced “th”). Shades of Middle Earth anyone? (And, yes, Tolkien was an inveterate linguist of the old philologist order.) 3.tThe Middle English word ado combined the words to do; which French-speakers would be familiar with the preposition à meaning both “at” and “to.” In short, ado simply means “to do.” Much ado about nothing = Much to do about nothing. Likewise: Without further ado = Without further to do.4.tLanguage purists/police/prescriptivists beware: “People who readily complain about language always have an unreal perception of what they do themselves; they routinely break the principle they most ardently commend.” Touché, I say.5.t “Increased familiarity with a compound form increases the likelihood that users will move from a spaced version (dark room) to a hyphenated one (dark-room) to a solid one (darkroom).” Pretty simple process, that. Of course, these are just a few of the gems that I encountered in my long reading of Crystal’s comprehensively researched book. And it is both brilliantly insightful, if not mind-numbing at times. (Those Old and Middle English text excerpts can really put a wrench in it, despite the important points that they’re being used to illustrate.)

By Hook Or By Crook: A Journey In Search Of English

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3.59 rating

Comment 1: The author is obviously very passionate about language, and that passion comes through in his writing. However, the subject is very, very dry (and I've read etymology books before). A British Travelouge where he goes from town to town, discussing the minute differences caused by a few miles, with some random history tidbits thrown in (especially if it's a tidbit related to Shakespeare or Johnson) and an occasional digression such as to San Francisco. It was however excellent reading for going to Comment 2: When I first picked up this book, I expected it to be a history of English, a record of the way the language started out and how it evolved into what we speak now. And there is some of that--and those parts are a great deal more fascinating than I would have expected them to be--but for the most part, it is a "linguistic travelogue," as it says on the front flap. A renowned linguist travels the world and reports his encounters with English. However interesting that might sound to you, I promise Comment 3: Fun for perusing the English language. Its a relaxing book that you need to kind of flow through until you hit a nugget like the fact that back in 1799 parrot voices where the last record of an extinct civilization. After being destroyed by a rival tribe everything about the Maypure tribe of Venezuela was lost but the scattered fragments of their dialect which a linguist by the name of Alexander von Humbolt saved with phonetic transcriptions of the sayings of the their pet parrots.

The Unfolding Of Language

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4.18 rating

'Language is mankind's greatest invention - except of course, that it was never invented.' So begins Guy Deutscher's fascinating investigation into the evolution of language. No one believes that the Roman Senate sat down one day to design the complex system that is Latin grammar, and few believe, these days, in the literal truth of the story of the Tower of Babel. But then how did there come to be so many languages, and of such elaborate design? If we started off with rudimentary utterances on the level of 'man throw spear', how did we end up with sophisticated grammars, enormous vocabularies, and intricately nuanced shades of meaning? Drawing on recent, groundbreaking discoveries in modern linguistics, Deutscher exposes the elusive forces of creation at work in human communication. Along the way, we learn why German maidens are neuter while German turnips are female, why we have feet not foots, and how great changes in pronunciation may result from simple laziness...

The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

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3.93 rating

Comment 1: A much more compelling story than the history of our "genes", this books traces the evolution of the common cultural and linguistic roots of societies as diverse as the Lithuanians and the Iranians, the Indian sub-continent and the British Isles. Anthony details a breathtaking range of scholarship, from the early linguistic chapters (which too tantalisingly brief) through frontier and migration theorists, to his own archaeology, to pull together his argued position for the development of a cohes Comment 2: As others have said, the easiest parts of this book to read, and the parts with the most general concepts, are chapters 1-7 and the last chapter. They provide the basis for the middle section of the book. If you, like me, are more familiar with languages and geography than you are with archaeology, these middle chapters will contain most of the new information. However, in places the exact archaeological descriptions of various pottery can become tedious. I found that to get the most interesting Comment 3: Fascinating read, though not what I had expected. The story is really about how the domestication of the horse led to migration across the vast steppes, which had been considered "impassable" or at least very treacherous and time consuming. This in turn led to commercialization of another new skill -- metallurgy esp. the forging of bronze weapons from copper and tin. New research from Russia shows that the late Neolithic period was a time of far greater innovation, commerce and resettlement than

Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures

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3.95 rating

Comment 1: I bought this book for the title and then was delighted to discover it was the first half of Noam's Managua lectures, the second half being On Ideology and Power, one of my favorite books of all time. It was a very interesting read. The concept of a genetic predisposition for learning language is interesting, and Chomsky couldn't have stated his belief stronger. Particularly fascinating was the discussion of a universal grammer that becomes realized in the specifics of the one or more languages we learn. Chomsky compares the specifics of any one language to switches that are toggled to one position or another in universal grammer. The examples he gives in Spanish and English are very evocative but ultimately unsatisfying to me. I was wishing he could include more languages so I could see more how universal grammer holds for all languages. These lectures were given over 20 years ago, though, so I imagine a lot of progress has been made in this area.I also found the idea very evocative that the capacity for mathematics arose as an abstraction from the language ability. That mathematics was not necessary for our survival but that the mechanisms in the brain for representations of "discrete infinity" could also be abstracted for mathematics.There was also a very brief discussion of the relationship between language and thought at the end of the book, which has always fascinated me to the point of near obsession. This was really the reason I bought the book (thinking that the relationship between the two would be the entire focus of the book), but, alas, I found it was about something else.Anyway, he says: "The fact is that if you have not developed language, you simply don't have access to most of human experience..."Favorite Quotes:"It is a traditional insight, which merits more attention than it receives, that teaching should not be compared to filling a bottle with water but rather to helping a flower to grow in its own way. As any good teacher knows, the methods of instruction and the range of material covered are matters of small importance as compared with the success in arousing their interest in exploring on their own. What the student learn passively will quickly be forgotten. What students discover for themselves when their natural curiosity and creative impulses are aroused not only will be remembered but will be the basis for further exploration and inquiry and perhaps significant intellectual contributions. The same is true in connection with questions that I have been addressing in the concurrent series of lectures on political issues (see preface). A truly democratic community is one in which the general public has the opportunity for meaningful and constructive participation in the formation of social policy: in their own immediate community, in the workplace, and in the society at large. A society that excludes large areas of crucial decision-making from public control, or a system of governance that merely grants the general public the opportunity to ratify decisions taken by the elite groups that dominate the private society and the state, hardly merits the term "democracy.""Work of true aesthetic value follows canons and principles that are only in part subject to human choice; in part, they reflect our fundamental nature."

The English Language: A Guided Tour of the Language

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3.8 rating

Comment 1: David Crystal presents the history of the English language in an easy-to-read format that is not too dry. The linguistic perspective shows the evolution of English from Old English that had very few surviving manuscripts (about 30) to global English that has diversified into different dialects. He addresses some of the language anxiety that has come out of these variations in recent history such as Singapore and points out the paradox of the government mandating the people to not use a mixture o Comment 2: A fascinating little book about the English Language and a perfect present for anyone who gets cross if you pronounce schedule as "sked-yule" rather than "shed-yule", or who in any other way tries to keep the language inflexible and unchanging. It takes the sting out of those people by making it clear how changeable, flexible and, yes, international English is. As a lovely bonus, Crystal suggests a fairly pain free way of working out the size of your vocabulary. I can't wait to get started. Comment 3: A far-reaching volume that deals with evolution of language, regional variations, technology, slang, jargon, humor... you name it. David Crystal has a brilliant way of making the basics of linguistics accessible to anyone. I'm sure he certainly could go into greater depth, but then this very readable volume would feel like a textbook instead.

Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word

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4.1 rating

Comment 1: Walter Ong believes that writing is the single most important technology created by man, because it has had the greatest effect in shaping human consciousness. He believes that individuals and cultures can be fundamentally divided between those that are primary oral (have never known writing) and those that are literate. The effect of literacy is to greatly amplify certain modes of thought: analytical, abstract, impersonal. Though writing itself dates to roughly 3500 B.C. when it was invented by the Sumerians, something approaching universal literacy in advanced countries did not come about until the 19th century -- almost within living memory. Ong's analysis draws heavily on the work of Eric Havelock, a classical scholar who focused heavily on the work of Homer. The Iliad and the Odyssey were oral works, only written down long after the passing of Homer (and all the oral story-tellers who contributed to these tales in their re-telling down through the centuries). Striking features of this type of story-telling are the mnemonic techniques it uses, in particular meter and formulaic phrases. Ong extends these observations about mnemonic techniques to discuss speech in purely oral cultures, and how all of them tend to rely heavily on proverbs and other such verbal formulas as a way of retaining knowledge. Without writing, knowledge can only be retained in memory, and so techniques for reinforcing memory are widespread. As literacy becomes widespread, these memory techniques begin to fade -- proverbs begin to fade from the language, and memorization through repetition and oral performance becomes uncommon. Once knowledge and stories can be encoded in writing however, literature becomes more free-form, without the restrictive conventions (metre, formulaic repetition...) of oral epics. The store of literature grows explosively. At the same time, vocabulary increases rapidly, character development in literature becomes deeper and more subtle, and narrative plot structures become sustained and more complex.One of the most interesting chapters of the book describes research by a Russian linguist in Central Asia in the 1930's. The researcher would give his subjects, illiterate peasants, strings of words such as saw, axe, hammer and log, and ask them to say which word did not fit. They couldn't do it. They would see all of them as being related to the working of wood, so all of the words were of the same kind. When he showed shapes to these same individuals, such as circles or squares, none of the them would use these terms. Instead, they would use the names of commonplace objects of the same shape -- for example, for a circle they would say pie, or plate, or barrel, but never "circle". They lacked the ability to express such an abstraction. When he repeated these same experiments with literate subjects, even if they were only barely literate, these difficulties disappeared. Very interesting ...Ong is very much of a big thinker in this field -- and has clearly stood on the shoulders of Eric Havelock in the process -- yet I often long to see more evidence backing up his sweeping statements. He amply footnotes his sources, but his sources themselves seem to derive from more of a literary tradition than a scientific one, even when they purport to be products of the social sciences such as cultural anthropology. Experimental research evidence is almost non-existent, though the trove of anecdotal evidence presented is quite rich. One fundamental research obstacle here is that oral story-telling is an evanescent art form: once told, it is gone forever, unless some intrepid scribe or videographer happens to be standing by. Still more difficult is ancient story-telling, which figures prominently in this book. Who is to say how the tales of Homer were once recited, and how much each retelling of the tale differed from its predecessors, before the "final" version was committed to paper? Add these difficulties to the fact that, today, cultures untouched by writing are remote, few in number and fast-vanishing, and you have a very big problem. This creates a fundamental difficulty: much of Ong's theory may prove unfalsifiable -- unable to be either proven or disproven. The necessary experiments were never performed, and the possibility of gathering more evidence is all but gone.One piece of advice: skip the last chapter, "Some Theorems". It appears to have been machine generated by a structuralist/deconstructionist/textualist blather program, release 1.0.

Language in Thought and Action

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4.2 rating

Comment 1: This book is an interesting, concise, and well-written book about linguistics, particularly semantics. It particularly deals with how we know what we know, and how we frequently systematically misunderstand or miscommunicate because of limitations of language - or our use of language - for conveying what we mean. In many ways, it is about the evolution of prejudice in individual minds as a consequence of confusing levels of abstraction, so that "Pigs are dirty" implies that Hampton is dirty because Hampton is a pig, even though Hampton has always demonstrated excellent hygiene. The problem is that "Hampton" is a specific pig, being observed at a specific time, and is at a different level of abstraction than "pig" in general (or even "farm animal" or "animal" or all kinds of other categories you could put him into). Even if my whole experience of pigs leads me to believe they are dirty, my experience remains limited, and I may err in applying the trait to Hampton. Unwillingness to let Hampton be clean is a prejudice related to cognitive inflexibility - often related to the inability to see different levels of abstraction for what they are. The characteristic metaphor here is that "maps" - levels of abstraction - fail to correspond to "territories." He details the differences between reports, inferences, and judgments, which are easily confused, at times with significant consequences.The book does not entirely dwell on the negative. It has interesting discussions of the ways we use talk ritually. In such instances, the words have little to do with what is communicated, or why the words are said. These analyses are well-done and instructive.Towards the end of the book, Hayakawa turns from describing the more basic aspects of representing information to the ways certain systems of representation - such as television - change our perspective and understanding in ways that might not be desirable. He describes the effects of television on advertising, human motivation, and politics. He ends with a discussion of "cultural lag," which is a sociological term for "the continued existence of obsolete institutional habits and forms." The characteristic metaphor is having "horse and buggy" ways - living as though one's social conventions were appropriate even though technological and social advancement have changed the entire landscape for social interaction.

The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language

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3.96 rating

Comment 1: This is another fun language book by McWhorter. This volume is organized around looking at all the ways that languages change and evolve over time. McWhorter describes a rich variety of changes that languages and dialects can undergo. We've all heard and read about how languages can change in pronunciation over time, and how word meanings can evolve. But that is only the start of McWhorter's entertaining and informative tour through the evolution of language.Complex language features---such as inflection or the use of tone---come and go over time, and McWhorter provides some fascinating insights into how and why this type of change happens. He also describes a variety of other complexities that arise in the world's languages, but are generally unfamiliar to folks like me who are mostly only familiar with Romance or Indo-European languages.There is a large (and interesting) section of the book devoted to pidgins and creoles. Creoles are essentially new languages that spring into being when people who use a much simpler pidgin are compelled to rely almost exclusively on that pidgin for communication of a long period of time. The resulting Creole is a true language with a grammar and vocabulary that provide sufficient expressiveness for the full range of human communications. McWhorter argues that since Creoles are less evolved, the common features across creole languages are probably a good indication of the types of features that would have been present in the earliest human language. Another interesting aspect of the book was the contrasting of more isolated, regional languages and more wide-spread languages such as English, Hindi, Chinese, or Arabic. The truly bizarre and hard to grasp linguistic complexities are much more likely to be found in the more isolated languages, where most if not all speakers learn the language natively as children. Once a language gets big enough that many people are learning it as a second language, those rough edges get softened over time. Thus, for example, Swahili, a language adopted by many adults as a second language, is generally considered the "easiest" of the Bantu languages.There are many other interesting aspects of language evolution in this book. How do languages change when the mix with each other, whether due to migration, trade, or conquest? What happens when a language starts getting written down? How do languages change as they die out? Do we have any hope of reconstructing the original human language? The book is full of interesting examples English and other languages readers may know, such as French, German, and Russian, and from languages readers are unlikely to have heard of, such as Ngan'gityemerri, an Aborigine language from northern Australia. And McWhorter tells his story with enthusiasm and a pleasant sprinkling of personal anecdotes and asides, both relevant (such as his personal experience grappling with different German dialects) and merely entertaining (such as his musings on the quality of art in turn-of-the-century comic strips).

Man Made Language

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4.22 rating

Comment 1: I have long been fascinated by the topic of this book: how sexist language shapes our consciousness, our reality. Published in 1980, this is not a light read, rather academic in style. Much of it was engaging, some of it was repetitive.We learn of the many ways in which women have been silenced throughout history (the taking on of husbands' surnames, that women have been forbidden from discussing marital affairs with other women, that expressing an opinion isn't feminine, the letting slip 'out of print' of numerous works by female writers, etc). The consequent muting and invisibility of women has allowed men to be viewed as the primary sex (with women as 'other' or 'deviant'). Reality for both women and men then is seen from the male perspective which, in turn, has shaped language.Now that language describes male reality and not female reality, it can hold the patriarchy in place because it seems like the norm, and even women defend it. Females who object are seen as whining and unreasonable, whereas those females are simply suggesting that men be reasonable and give back what they have taken.Men (and often women) insist that the terms 'mankind,' 'man,' and 'he' encompass women, that they refer to 'people.' But if we compare these two sentences, we see the lie:--Man goes to war with his enemies--Man breastfeeds his childrenUp until recently sexual language (as well as all other language) was based on the male point of view. For example:--Penetration. This is what the man does. The same act, from the heterosexual female perspective, could be described as 'enclosure.' That this seems absurd highlights the issue.--Rape: The word means 'seize.' Rapacious (meaning 'greedy') comes from the same Latin root. This word conveys nothing of the painful, terrifying experience for a woman. When the expressions 'sexist' and 'sexual harassment' entered the English language, this was ground-breaking. Women at last had some words they could use to describe their experience in their own terms. This book didn't make me as angry as I'd expected (maybe because women are more liberated since 1980), but I'm still pissed off.

The Story of English in 100 Words

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3.87 rating

Comment 1: A very enjoyable book! It has lots of great factoids to impress your friends, such as the origin of the name "Cloud Cuckoo Land" (the creators of the Lego Movie did not make it up!), why we have phrases like "cease and desist" with both words meaning essentially the same thing, and that "escalator" started life as a brand name. You get a general sense of some of the history of English, particularly its modern history, but this book is primarily a word-book. After reading this, I have a greater a Comment 2: This is exactly the book I needed to read right now. I've been in a bit of a reading slump, so it was great to read a book that sucked me right in. I could not stop sharing all of the fascinating facts I was learning as I was reading. Did you know it wasn't until 1974 that billion meant the same thing to Britain as it did to the rest of the world? Before that, it meant a "million million" in Britain and a "thousand million" everywhere else. It's amazing to me that this is even possible. Or that Comment 3: This is the second book that I've read by this author and although he writes well and with humour I found myself a little let down both times - more my own expectations than his writing, I'm sure. I felt there was a bias towards more modern words, post-industrial revolution. It could easily be argued that the strides taken by humans since then have forced this rush of new or repurposed words and it simply illustrates that language is a dynamic and adaptive resource. Nevertheless, I think what I

Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language

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3.48 rating

Comment 1: My second entry in the Year of Reading Virtuously, though if any book I read this year challenges the notion of "virtue" more than this one, I'll eat my hat. I'd started the week with every intention of reading "Longitude" this week, but I'd checked this one out from the library before the holidays, and the clock is ticking down to the due date, so I bumped it up. This wasn't in the technical Pile o' Shame, since I neither own this book nor have I neglected reading it for a significant part of a Comment 2: I absolutely loved this book and Ruth Wajnryb's masterful blend of linguistic analysis and tongue-in-cheek commentary on "swearing." I don't consider myself a linguistics nerd by any means so there were some moments when the linguistic vocabulary felt a little over my head, but for the most part I found the book extremely accessible and relevant to anyone, like myself, who is interested in sociology and cultural construction. There were also some parts that were laugh-out-loud funny, which made Comment 3: I just finished this book seconds ago and am inspired to write essays about it. Well-written, humorous and fascinating, Ruth Wajnryb covers in her exploration of bad language everything from definitions of bad language (what is a "curse" versus a "swear" versus an "oath" versus an "expletive"?) to the reasons we curse (stubbing one's toe, communicating social bonds, abuse), to who curses, how they do it, and what are we as a society saying by how we react to it?

Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language

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3.84 rating

Comment 1: An introduction to Chomskyan linguistics through a single feature of English: regular and irregular verbs and nouns (all other languages are covered in a single chapter). To Pinker, they are a window on the language and mind in general, of healthy children (who regularize irregular verbs but then stop) and adults as well as of sufferers from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's chorea (each of these diseases affects the usage of regular and irregular English verbs in its own way). Pinker delves into the history of several irregular verbs (there were three verbs in Old English meaning to be: beon was similar to the Spanish ser, and eson and weson were similar to the Spanish estar; be, been and being are derived from beon, am, is and are from eson, and was and were from weson). Over the centuries, English speakers forgot rarely-used irregular past tenses of verbs and replaced them with regular ones (wrought became worked); they also constructed irregular past tenses of new verbs by analogy (snuck like stuck). Apparently, reasoning by analogy and reasoning by the rules are done by two different parts of the brain, and you need both for language and thought. Comment 2: Steven Pinker's work is generally very readable, and so he has become something of a champion popularizer of linguistics and all the fun, quirky, nifty tidbits of knowledge that come with the field. Unfortunately, he also does two things that annoy the hell out of me:1) He writes from a controversial position as if it were the only view,and2) He had one good idea a few decades back, and has proceeded to spin it out into a small cottage industry involving a number of volumes and essays; in reality, he wrote one book six or seven times.Words and Rules is, in my mind, the most fun of the lot, mainly because it introduces some pretty fundamental linguistics concepts in clear, accessible language and effectively blows the mind of the lay reader. What could be better than that? Other books, like The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate delve more deeply into his affiliation with Noam Chomsky's ideas of Universal Grammar and the innate human tendency toward language production, or the dubiously named/conceived "Language Acquisition Device." I recommend these latter two only in conjunction with critical, post-Chomsky work on universalism and language development.

Verbal Behavior

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4.05 rating

Comment 1: This was Skinner's most audacious move. He took up the challenge from A.N. Whitehead to try and explain verbal behavior. Not a bad try at the time, given the theoretical framework available in the 1950's. We're a bit further down the road now. I'd make this comparison: "Verbal Behavior" is to verbal behavior as "The Origin of Species" is to contemporary genetics, if you know what I mean... Comment 2: I only give it three stars because a lot of it went over my head. It is a dense book, but not in a bad way. I want to reread it soon and also re-rate it after I finish it. Comment 3: This is a difficult read, which requires full commitment (e.g., re-reading, note-taking). If you're interested in ABA and verbal behavior, however, it's a must read. Comment 4: Read for a class...I like the application of this theory. VERY hard to read!! It's a completely different language!!!

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages

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3.81 rating

Comment 1: A Canadian poet and journalist goes around the world visiting speakers of moribund languages. Aborigines of Northern Australia progressed within a few generations from the Mesolithic to their current lives of crime, welfare dependency, junk food and resultant diabetes, and watching television. Unsurprisingly, young people among them consider American rap music (and the language thereof) to be more relevant to their lives than traditional creation myths (and the languages thereof). Murals depicting idyllic traditional lives are besmirched with graffiti "NO MORE CULTURE FOR US GANGSTA GAMES WE RIDE" and "WE ARE THE JAIL BIRD WESTSIDE GANGSTERS OKAY MOTHER F---ERS". Manx revival enthusiasts force their small children to speak the language they themselves speak poorly, and coin Manx words for diapers and pacifier; at least they don't make them speak Klingon, like this linguist father. A Provençal revival enthusiast defends the language as the true language of Provence, which is threatened not only by French, but also by the Arabic and Berber of immigrants. A Yiddish play about Harry Houdini staged in Montreal had tableaux translating the dialogue into English and French; where the English translation had "G-d", the French one had "Dieu" instead of "D---"; during the intermission, all conversations were in English and French except for a single one in Yiddish. At a lecture by Ruth Wisse, a professor of Yiddish literature at Harvard, a French Canadian man asked her why the Jews do not support the struggles of the Quebecois: without Quebec's notorious language laws, their language could suffer the fate of Yiddish in Anglophone North America.Mark Abley acknowledges that he is a journalist and not a professional linguist, but at least he could have gotten one to proofread his book. It is probably not true that a certain Australian Aboriginal language and its forerunners were spoken "before the foundations of Sumer and Babylon were dug - and before the great myth of Babel first entered anyone's mind" in the area where its last living speakers live. The forerunner of English was spoken at that time too; it probably resembled Sanskrit (the noun has masculine, feminine and neuter genders, singular, dual and plural numbers, and 8 cases) or Hittite (the noun has animate and inanimate genders, singular and plural numbers, and 7 cases), and it was not spoken in England. Why should we assume that the Australian Aboriginal language changed less in 5000 years, and its speakers didn't move? What does it mean to say that among the living languages of Europe, only Basque is older than Welsh? The people of Rome have been speaking some sort of Latin for at least 2700 years; we call different stages of the language by different names (Old Latin, Classical Latin, Vulgar Latin, medieval Italian, modern Italian), but there is an unbroken chain of native speakers going back this far, and a record of the language slowly changing. The people of Crete have been speaking some sort of Greek for at least 3300 years. What makes Basque and Welsh older than Greek and Italian? Recent English borrowings into Russian like "defolt" and "keellyer" no more make the language impure than recent Arabic borrowings into English like "mujahid" and "shahid" make English impure. A language that does not require a dummy subject in sentences like "It rains" does not have to be as exotic as Hopi; in Spanish it is "Llueve". In an Australian Aboriginal language, a certain noun can mean a cycad (a kind of plant), its seeds, a cockroach that lives in its dead fronds, and a man with the cockroach totem, depending on the noun class. This sounds exotic until you consider that in American English, a jet is a stream of fluid, a kind of aircraft engine consisting of a gas turbine emitting a stream of hot gas, an aircraft powered by such engines, and (spelled "Jet") a member of an American football team whose home stadium is frequently overflown by such aircraft, depending on the context (there is an unrelated homonym meaning black coal, and an adjective describing the color of such coal, frequently applied to hair). The words in the Australian Aboriginal language are no more "held and balanced in an intricate web of relationships" than the English words. It is not true that languages "tend to evolve toward simplicity"; Italian indeed has simpler morphology than Latin, which the latter inherited from Proto-Indo-European, but chances are, Proto-Indo-European was a complication of something simpler; the 12 infinitive verb endings of Vedic Sanskrit were probably separate words that merged with the root the way the direct object pronoun merges with the root in the French word "t'adore".

The Power Of Babel: A Natural History of Language

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3.96 rating

Comment 1: It’s been a little too long since I read this to write a detailed review, but on the whole I found it readable and interesting. At times it began to feel belaboured in terms of the examples given and the detail gone into, though of course, I’ve also read various other books about linguistics and so I had some grounding in what I was reading already. For the most part, McWhorter avoids being prescriptive about language and tracks change in language as how language works — which you’d expect, or h Comment 2: I have rarely been that delighted and flattered by a book. McWorther points out that there is only a fluent and gradual distinction between different languages on the one hand and different dialects on the other hand. For instance he proves that the differences between several German dialects are much more substantial than those between Russian/Ukrainian, Spanish/Portuguese or Danish/Swedish/Norwegian. Since I speak at least four German dialects (Kölsch, Hessian, Platt and Hamburgian) in his vie Comment 3: This book is an interesting introduction to linguistic history and theory. While it styles itself a 'natural history' do not expect a chronological tour of the interesting points in linguistic history. It is more of a gentle survey of language history, theory, and related concepts. Any popular book on a technical subject should combine interesting information with a clear presentation, full of sharp writing and good examples. The Power of Babel delivers here, with very interesting and informativ

Talk Talk Talk: Decoding the Mysteries of Speech

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3.77 rating

With a mixture of erudition and humor, Canadian radio personality Jay Ingram discusses the sociology of talking: the dynamics of conversation, men and women's different propensities for interrupting, and even the proper use of "you know." But he also delves into the mystery-riddled physiology of talking. While we now know that certain areas of the brain seem to control specific aspects of speech—from articulating words to creating meaningful sentences—how do scientists explain the extraordinary case of the young stroke victim who lost only the words for fruits and vegetables? Is it possible that the ability to talk is actually encoded in our genes, as some scientists believe? From the language roots of North America to the speech differences between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, from modern children creating whole new languages in one generation to Freudian slips, from talking to yourself to speaking in tongues, Talk, Talk, Talk covers the gamut of humankind's most enigmatic and intriguing skill. Impeccably researched, lively and accessible, Talk, Talk, Talk is a book you won't be able to keep quiet about.

Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament

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4.27 rating

Comment 1: This is an excellent reference and resource book. The book is laid out as a series of outlines making it easy and convenient for reference purposes. Each chapter starts with an outline of the chapter, highlighting the key terms and phrases for that chapter, and then at the conclusion of the book there is a more detailed outline of the entire book. This final outline provides a short explanation of all the key terms and phrases used in the book, so it is very useful for a person wanting a quick refresher on syntax. The user has been kept in mind during the creation of this book, with great effect. The amount of research that has gone into this book is astounding. Mr. Wallace deserves a lifetime achievement award for doing and compiling a tremendous amount of research. His research is both historic and original, and in addition to his own research he provides an extensive bibliography for each chapter in case the reader/user of this book wants to do more self-study on any particular syntactical area of Biblical Greek. The use of this book will give the reader a better understanding of the semantic range of translations, helping make sense of the wide range of translations available. In effect, it peels back the Biblical translation to see the undergirding meaning of the foundation upon which the translation is built.Though sometimes tedious, the writing style is clear, and Mr. Wallace writes succinctly. This helps the reader make better sense of sometimes dense syntactical concepts. In short, this book is well worth the purchase price and gives the Biblical Greek student a wealth of information and understanding.

The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue

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3.81 rating

Comment 1: On 29 December 1566, Tycho Brahe, a young Danish nobleman who was studying at the University of Rostock, quarrelled with his third cousin Manderup Parsberg about the validity of a mathematical formula. Neither side would back down and they ended up fighting a duel over it, which resulted in Brahe losing part of his nose and being disfigured for life. He went on to become the greatest observational astronomer of his age, carrying out detailed measurements of planetary movements which after his death allowed his assistant Johannes Kepler to formulate the ground-breaking Three Laws.Now that's how academics ought to be if they want to make a mark and be taken seriously. I am ashamed to say that, like everyone else I know in modern academia, I have never once fought a duel to defend a point of principle. The closest I've come was an incident in 1990 when I published a critical journal article that seriously pissed off a Swedish professor. One of my colleagues was attending a conference; a colleague of the person I'd criticized came up to him during the coffee break, pinned him against the wall, and asked him what the fuck I'd meant and how dared I say that. My friend was impressed! But, despite a few attempts, I have never been able to repeat this early triumph. In general, the current generation of academics are taught to avoid confrontation and try to get on with people.Merritt Ruhlen, I'm delighted to see, is an old-school kind of guy, and even if he hasn't yet had his nose cut off I'm sure there are plenty of linguists who'd like to help him with that problem. This book gives a condensed, accessible account of the program he's been pursuing for a large part of his distinguished career, whose ambitious goal is to establish a family tree for all the world's languages. I am impressed to learn how much progress Ruhlen and his collaborators have made. Most comparative linguists apparently call him a crank, but Ruhlen has many supporters in the genetics, archaeology and anthropology communities, and is well-liked there; he has even published papers together with the legendary Murray Gell-Mann. For my money, Ruhlen is not a crank, and may go down in history as one of the 20th century's most important linguists.Ruhlen says that his methods are essentially no more than common sense, and appears exasperated by the hostile reception he has received. It is, indeed hard to explain the hostility on purely rational grounds. The book starts with a precis of the pioneering work done 200 years ago to discover the Indo-European family of languages, which was very simple in nature: people noticed that basic words ("I", "you", "hand", "blood", "fly" etc) tended to have similar forms in all these languages, and logically hypothesized that this pointed to a common origin. Since then, the methods have become more sophisticated, and in particular have moved towards detailed reconstruction of the original "Proto-Indo-European"; but Ruhlen argues persuasively that linguists have lost sight of the original intuitions. Although linguists are now unwilling to admit that two languages are related if they have not been able to reconstruct a common ancestor, Ruhlen points out that the thing which started off the whole process was coincidence of common words. This is what motivated the later reconstructions.A fairly large part of the book is concerned with the debate about Native American languages, where Ruhlen, building on earlier work by the late Joseph Greenberg, argues that all these languages can be divided into three main groups, each with a common origin: Amerindian, Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleutian. This is apparently anathema to mainstream Americanists, despite the obvious fact, noted from the earliest days of the subject, that the Amerindian group is generally distinguished by a first-person singular pronoun which starts with an 'n' and a second-person singular pronoun which starts with an 'm'. This contrasts with the equally wide-spread pattern among "Euroasiatic" languages of a word like "me" starting with an 'm' and one like "thou" starting with a 't', 'th', 'd' or similar consonant. The obvious explanation of the contrasting n/m and m/t patterns, which correlate well with other less obvious items, is that they point to two very large language superfamilies, but this is roundly denied by most experts. Ruhlen spends some time discussing why this should be, and stops just short of accusing his colleagues of Nazi-like racial theorizing; he claims that much of the thinking goes back to the late 19th century, where linguists believed that Indo-European languages were more "advanced" than others, and somehow could not be related to them. It is easy to see why people hate him; however, Ruhlen says, with understandable satisfaction, that recent genetic research supports many of his claims, in particular the tripartite Amerindian/Na-Dene/Eskimo-Aleutian division. The later chapters move towards the even bolder hypothesis that all the world's languages may be related. I was in particular astonished to see a list of roots that, it is claimed, may occur in all the world's language families. The clearest candidate is apparently TIK meaning "finger/one", which, Ruhlen says, has correlates ranging from "DIGit" and "inDICate" in English to te ("hand"; apparently a reduced form of tek) in Japanese. The number two candidate is "AK'WA", meaning "water", which also seems to be remarkably widespread. Ruhlen connects linguistic and genetic evidence, making a pretty good case.The book is well-written and amusing; I read it in about a day. Highly recommended if you're at all interested in language! And now, if you'll excuse me, I must go and piss off some of my fellow academics. Ruhlen reminds me that I'm behind schedule.

Social Linguistics And Literacies: Ideology in Discourses (Critical Perspectives on Literacy and Education)

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4.29 rating

Comment 1: Here is a really simple test to know how much you know about ‘grammar’. If you think there is one grammar (or even one grammar per language) and that is known as ‘proper grammar’ –you basically don’t know anything about grammar. Now, don’t get me wrong – that’s a pretty blissful state of ignorance to be in and has much to recommend it. But there are lots of different ways to do ‘grammar’ and hardly any of them are ‘proper’ – transformational grammar, socio-linguistics, traditional grammar, generative linguistics, systemic-functional linguistics, critical discourse analysis… Mmm.The big division is between the Chomskyan and the various social grammars. For Chomsky grammar is innate, independent of individual languages or even language ‘performances’ and therefore the study of linguistics needs to focus on language’s ‘deep structures’ as these can illuminate the genetic structures that fascinate language learning. Mostly this kind of grammar is interested in sentence level analysis of language and the transformations that can be made upon the deep structure of languages. This isn’t really about what most people take ‘grammar’ to mean – split infinitives and stuff like that, but rather how the surface structures of our languages can reveal the mental processes we are born with that make our learning languages possible in the first place (hence Pinker’s The Language Instinct). The other side is sociolinguistics. This says that language only exists because there is a ‘you’ as well as a ‘me’ – that is, that language is essentially a social activity and can’t be understood at all outside of the social context in which it is used. Any theory with ‘discourse’ in or around its title almost definitely owes something to Foucault, just as anything with ‘critical’ in its title probably owes something to Marx, but more importantly, both fall on the ‘social’ rather than ‘transformational’ side of this debate.Right from the start Gee makes it clear that the rules of grammar are not at all what you might think they are from the millions of proper ‘usage’ books you might find in any bookshop. He talks about a man going into a ‘bikers’ bar’ and how it is possible for him to use perfectly formed grammatical sentences and still be wrong. If he were to say in such a situation, “Pardon me, old chap, can I trouble you for a light? I was hoping to ‘blow some blue’ as I believe you have it in your local idiom”, while that is a perfectly grammatical sentence, it is clearly not ‘correct’ for that situation. Whereas, “Oy, fart-face, give-us a light” might well be, ironically enough, much suited to the social context, less likely to get you beaten up and therefore a better example of ‘correct’ grammar. Grammar, then, is always situated. A lot of this book is about working out the implications of precisely this insight.Take this article from The Guardian as a case in pointhttp://www.theguardian.com/society/20...Whereas the English often make their class distinctions quite explicit, the US likes to hide theirs and pretend they don’t really exist. Here in Australia we fall much more towards the US prejudices in this case. Gee talks about Discourses – essentially a way people have of communicating with the world – and how these come in various forms. There is a lovely description of a young Black American girl telling a story in class and how this is structured in ways that make lots of sense from within the mostly oral culture she has been brought up in – with lots of parallelisms and rhyme structures – but how this way of telling stories is not correct for school room discourse types, which have very strict rules about how stories need to be structured. He compares this to something a young middle class white girl says in class and which the teacher approves of. Naturally enough, the middle class white girl labels things explicitly in her speaking, even things that are ‘obvious’ from the context. This is something her parents are likely to have encouraged in her by reading and discussing books with her from her earliest years – ‘what’s that? Yes, that’s a doggie. What is the doggie doing?’. But this is a discourse type that is alien to this young black girl.Often the solution presented in these circumstances is to suggest schools should teach these skills to the students that do not have them. The problem often is much harder than this, though. Most of the rules needed to engage in this discourse (or any discourse) are implicit – that is, the teachers might not even know these rules exist themselves, but like the biker who watches you take out you handkerchief from your denim jacket pocket and dust down your barstool before you sit down, he just ‘knows’ something isn’t right with you. It is that line from My Last Duchess:“Even had you skillIn speech--which I have not--to make your willQuite clear to such an one, and say, "Just thisOr that in you disgusts me; here you miss,Or there exceed the mark"--and if she letHerself be lessoned so, not plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and make excuse--E'en then would be some stooping, and I chooseNever to stoop.“The problem is that we live in a world in which there are primary and secondary discourses. We all receive our primary discourse just by being born into a language community. But then we have to learn various secondary discourses – more or less remote from our primary discourse. Some of us are from families that are in positions of social power, and so we learn as our primary discourse one of society’s ‘dominant discourses’ as birthright. Life is contradictory, and like the guy in the Biker Bar, that dominant discourse type might even put your life in danger sometimes, but often it helps to clear the path for you in ways you are simply unaware of.A life’s experience with a discourse type marks a person as a certain kind of person. As the Guardian article above says, there might be diamonds out there that didn’t go to the right schools and who don’t speak with the right accent – but how much mud does one need to shift through to find that diamond? And is that sifting worth it when your ear is already tuned to spot the right kind of people? This is basically Pygmalion or My Fair Lady, except that if ‘posh’ is your secondary discourse type (as it is with My Fair Lady, that is, one you have had to learn rather than one you have just lived) you are always in threat of making a mistake and so you will hyper-correct, itself an error and clear sign of ‘not really belonging’. Worse, you may have to reject something that belongs to your primary discourse community to ‘fit in’ to a secondary one – something hateful and loathsome at the best of times.To Gee we don’t learn discourses, we acquire them through being welcomed into discourse communities as apprentices. This is why an autodidact (someone that has learnt something by themselves) is rarely accepted into a community of experts in that thing. They might have lots of ‘facts’, but they rarely have the ‘proper feeling’ for how those facts fit together. Bourdieu uses a lovely phrase to describe this, that what an autodidact knows is like a collection of unstrung pearls. This seems to make the task hopeless, but the advice Gee gives is that we should give those we teach a ‘metalanguage’ about how these games are played, so that, when they are in situations that are outside of their ‘comfort zone’ they know how to ‘mashfake’ (a prison term for making do with what you’ve got – I think the French for this is Bricolage, another of those terms texts like this often use for pretty much this same idea). That is, teach them how to make do with the bits and pieces of their various primary and secondary discourses they already have so as to be able to ‘wing it’, while also teaching them lots of ‘metalanguage’ so they know how to ‘call’ people on the game that is being played against them. Would this work? No idea. But it does have the advantage of telling snobs they are being snobs (something one shouldn’t take for granted they know they are being) – and that can never be a bad thing. As Gee says, it gives people something to be getting on with while we wait for the revolution.Unlike what I’ve done here, Gee provides lots of detailed worked examples – nothing quite like a worked example to make something clear. This guy is a genius – but this book is expensive. See if you can get it from your library.

Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things

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4.12 rating

Comment 1: I can't remember the last time I started a book and didn't finish it, but that's going to have to be the case with this one. It's been sitting on my bedside table for more than a year now; I've made it to page 120, and I'm afraid for me it's coming across as extremely tedious and pedantic, with convoluted arguments and more than one conclusion that is pretty clearly a stretch. I'm interested in psychology and linguistics, really, I am! So it shouldn't be hard to hold my interest with a book on t Comment 2: As an academic study Lakoff's book is highly regarded as groundbreaking. Unfortunately, not having expertise in linguistics, it is also difficult to read as the author has an overly reliant focus on long lists, and on the use of terminology that is specific to this domain. The book presents reasoned arguments (particularly on the long discussion against objectivism in scientific theory) and carefully blends linguistics with philosophy and psychology with social linguistics, which at times is fas Comment 3: If this book was a couple of hundred pages shorter I would recommend it to just about anyone. The central idea is both interesting and important – but I think the book isn’t quite sure about who its audience ought to be and this gets in the way. I didn’t quite finish the last of the case studies, he did warn it would be long, but I lost the thread and figured I had gotten all I needed from the book by then, anyway.

The American Heritage Dictionary

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4.22 rating

Comment 1: In my family we brushed our teeth with Crest, we downed delicious cans of incomparably viscous Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup (maybe I should reverse the order of those two), we drank Tang and ate at Burger King and Roy Rogers, we puttered around in Chryslers and Volkswagens, and when we were perplexed by a new word we turned to American Heritage. I've owned this dictionary for a long, long time and I've never felt the need to replace it. It may not contain the definitions of Bollywood, sudoku, or speed dating, and I'm sure the currency table needs some updating, but if you want to know what suint and ordure are, look no further. I always appreciated the fact that it contains special articles by Lee Pederson, Dwight Bolinger, William F. Buckley, Geoffrey Nunberg, and Henry Kučera, though I've never read them. (Bolinger and Buckley present arguments on whether "the prevailing usage of its speakers should be the chief determinant of acceptability in language" - Bolinger arguing for the affirmative, Buckley for the negative.) Comment 2: I grew up using an earlier edition of this dictionary (the same volume my mother took to college with her, in fact), so when I needed a handy compact word-book for quick reference at my desk, this was an easy choice. Scattered throughout are various tables and illustrations that are very helpful, and I really like the inclusion of historical personages; nothing to help you write a report, but if I need a quick pair of life dates, this is a great first place to look. And the words are clearly syl

Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

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3.84 rating

Comment 1: Sometimes, a very special book comes along and you never want it to end. You laugh and laugh and suddenly realize that you are actually learning new things. You bring them up in your everyday speech, “Did you know that during the Victorian era, it was racy to refer to one’s legs? People would only refer to them as limbs.” “Did you know that during the Roman empire there was no concept of being homosexual?” “Did you know that the worst thing you could say to an Englishman during the Renaissance w Comment 2: I think this would have been an excellent long read or journal article. It just doesn't have the legs to make it an entire book - certainly not 250 pages. It often repeats itself or talks at length on subjects that aren't really that interesting. It's almost as if the author believed if they did a lot of research, they had to do a lot of writing. It's an impressive feat but it's a burden to slog through it. There were a few high points and interesting notes, but overall the best parts of the boo Comment 3: Interesting and fun read. Traces (Western) society's attitudes on obscenities and religious oaths, and how our attitudes to sex, bodies, religion and each other informs the ever shifting notion of what words and ideas are taboo. Obviously you might not want to read if you don't want frank discussions of "bad words" and body functions and historical attitudes to all that and everything in between. But it was quite interesting to learn just how not shocking our own swearing habits are (or opposite

American Language

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4.21 rating

Comment 1: Mencken’s The American Language is a fascinating look at the ever changing nature of language. His premise is that the English spoken by the English differs significantly enough from that spoken by United States residents and that they are, in fact, two very different languages spoken by two very different cultures.This book's 1921 publication date underlines the changing nature of language. Many, many words given as examples here are no longer used in this country 90 years after the publication of The American Language. Often in the course of reading this book, I came across words Mencken would refer to as being commonplace in American speech but that were news to me. Jap-a-lac is a fine example. What the heck is a jap-a-lac? Turns out it was a product manufactured by the Glidden Varnish Company and later loaned its name to a rye whiskey based cocktail.Speaking of cocktails, Mencken lists several in the chapter Expanding The Vocabulary, originating in the States, including, "horse's neck, Mamie Taylor, Tom And Jerry, Tom Collins, John Collins, bishop, stone wall, gin fix, brandy champarelle, golden slipper, hari kari, locomotive, whiskey daisy, blue blazer, black stripe, white plush and brandy crusta." The more alcoholically inclined among us will recognize several of these but many have passed on to the great cocktail graveyard in the sky.Also interesting were the musical terms from page 132. Mencken says, "In music the English cling to an archaic and unintelligible nomenclature, long since abandoned in America." These terms include breve for a double whole note, semibreve for a whole note, minim for a half note, crotchet for a quarter note, quaver for an eighth note and so forth, all apparently deriving from something called "plain chant," the precursor to Gregorian Chant.Another change since '21 is that we are significantly less apt to use racist terminology or ideas, especially in a scholarly text of this nature. Mencken is clearly educated and education is the ostensible enemy of ignorance. However, in the chapter Loan Words And Non English Influences, Mencken states that a number of loan words from the Chinese, "have remained California localisms, among them such verbs as yen (to desire strongly, as a Chinaman desires opium).” On page 211, Mencken refers to an African American as a "darkey." Or how about, "But in the United States there is a class of well to do commercial Jews of a peculiarly ignorant and obnoxious type - chiefly department store owners, professional Jewish philanthropists and their attendant rabbis, lawyers, doctors and so on..." This sort of thinking was perhaps more acceptable in the 20's but would be met today with derision if not outright animosity.I was unaware that, at one time, the word tenderloin was used to denote a "gay and dubious neighborhood." The word apparently originates from Alexander "Clubber" Williams, an 1870's New York police captain. After a transfer from an obscure precinct to one in West Thirtieth Street, Williams stated, "I've been having chuck steak ever since I've been on the force and now I'm going to have a bit of tenderloin."In examining the American fondness for acronyms, Mencken discusses O.K. and its origins. One etymology has it coming from the American Indian word, okeh, meaning "so be it." I was tickled to see Mencken reference Okeh Records, which he refers to as, "a popular series of phonograph records."The American Language is successful as a study of English but also functions as a history text. It is packed full of facts and information, though sometimes things take on a sort of listing quality (not like a ship, like list after list after list) and things often seem a bit random. Regardless, this book would be very interesting to the philologically minded.

An Introduction to Language

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3.92 rating

Comment 1: This book might be the most used introductory linguistics book in the world. I am very glad to have read its seventh edition. The number of editions might be proof of the quality and popularity of this book. How many textbooks can be in print for such a long time? The theme of this book is to make linguistics fun, and accessible. The use of cartoons, the quotes from famous authors, paragraphs discussing everyday use of language, and many more, all make the reader enjoy reading and studying linguistics. But on the other hand, the effort to make it fun will probably turn those serious students away. Anyways they are here for a university level course on the science of linguistics, where they expect to see compelling arguments, and serious discussions, rather than cartoons and funny word games. Moreover since this book was first written in the 70's, there are still many outdated data in the seventh edition, although it has been updated. The chapters on the core fields of linguistics, i.e. phonetics/phonology, syntax, semantics, and historical linguistics, seem to be a little too thin. While chapters on sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics, and writing systems can be interesting, students still need to be solidly grounded in the core fields of linguistics before they can successfully tap into the more interdisciplinary fields. Overall, this is one of the best introductory linguistics textbooks, although it tends to be not very serious, and in-depth, which could be excused for an intro textbook.

The F-Word

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3.62 rating

Comment 1: In this book, the reader learns a bit about the history of the F-word (yes that f-word); where it came from, when it first appeared in the English language, and some of the more interesting times it has been involved in historical events. The rest of the book is a dictionary of various forms and sayings that include the F-word.I knew the book was mostly a dictionary from the beginning. What I did not know is how boring that dictionary would be. I was expecting a bit more of an explanation beyond here is their word or phrase, here is the definition, and here are a great deal of sentences that use this word/phrase completely out of context. I skimmed most of the book and found it interesting, but not great reading. I would have liked the book to be more like the introduction that gave a lot more history. I also found it odd that some of the most common use cases of the F-word were not included, such as WTF, STFU, GTFO, and FML. The edition of the book I read was published in 2007, so it stands to reason that some of those "text-speak" acronyms would have been in common usage then. Yet the most obscure phrases were included, things that I have never heard which I guess is great if you are looking for new and creative ways to express yourself.I did find the introduction of the book entertaining and great. The history of the word and its changing meaning through time was great to learn. This is a good reference book if you are looking up the history of phrases or what an odd phrase means. I recommend this book to those who are very interested in the history of language and words, especially words that many respectable books will just pretend doesn't exist.Read Harder Challenge: Read a microhistory.

The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Crack the Hieroglyph Code

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3.9 rating

Comment 1: আজ পরযনত তিনটি বিলুপত সভযতার বরণমালার পাঠোদধার করা সমভব হয়েছে। পরথমটি ছিল পরাচীন মিশরীয় হিরোগলিফ, ১৮২০-এর দশকে ফরাসী ভাষাবিদ জঁ-ফরঁসোয়া শঁপোলিয়োঁ এর রহসযভেদ করেন। বাকি দুটো ঘটেছে আরো সমপরতি। ৩৫০০ বছর পুরনো মাইসিনিয়ান গরীক লিপি Linear B-র পাঠোদধার করেন ইংরেজ তরুণ মাইকেল ভেনটরিস (এবং তার পরপরই মারা যান - সেটা দুরঘটনা ছিল নাকি আতমহতযা, সেই পরশন অমীমাংসিতই রয়ে গেছে)। আর কিছুদিন আগে পরাচীন মায়া সভযতার লেখনী পড়তে সকষম হয়েছেন মারকিন বিজঞানীরা। লেখক এনডরু রবিনসন - যিনি রবীনদরনাথ এবং বিশেষ করে সতযজিত রায়

Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends

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3.31 rating

Comment 1: It's been awhile since I've read a book about stuff like grammar and linguistics, but this seemed like it would be a nice, fun title to dig into.So lets talk about the positives. First - this is a really accessible book for just about anybody. If you are curious as to where certain words and expressions DID come from (mostly DID NOT) it is worth checking out.The tone is pretty light and upbeat. Very often books like this can come across as exceptionally dry. Wilton does a really good job keeping the book light and interesting.At the same time, this book does a whole lot to debunk common 'linguistic urban legends', but it doesn't put nearly as much effort into explaining what the true origins are. To some extent it is a little disappointing, but at the same time, it makes sense too.One of the reasons people came up with these word legends in the first place, was because the true origins couldn't be traced, or they were so uninteresting that people wanted to spice them up a little bit. The true stories behind some of these words and phrases, is often less interesting and fun than the proposed 'myths.'If you are really, really interested in the subject, it is worth checking out.If you don't know what the word etymology means, and you don't ponder the origins of words, you probably won't get much enjoyment out of this.

Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind

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3.96 rating

Comment 1: Excellent book. Even with my minimal ASL and layman's interest in linguistics I just could not put this book down. I enjoyed every page. It is both history and ethnographic studies and linguists! A fascinating look at how we communicate and what it means to have the ability to communicate, whether that is with our voice, our hands or some other medium. As humans we need to, we have to, we want to and we like to communicate with one and other. A wonderful book. Margalit Fox does a wonderful job i Comment 2: This was a fascinating book about a community that has its own indigenous sign language that spontaneously developed due to the high rate of deafness in the community. The language is spoken by both deaf and hearing members of the community. The book alternates chapter-by-chapter between a really good introduction to the linguistics, history, and culture of sign languages and a retelling of a visit to this village with a research team. I learned more from the didactic chapters of the book, and t Comment 3: Fox writes extremely well about language, conveying what could be dry academic material in an accessible and informative way. I had not realized until reading this book that the idea that signing is a form of language is of recent vintage. Much of the book is about the history of signing, and efforts of linguists to parse its elements. Fox also explores the efforts to understand the insights understanding sign could give into the operation of the brain, analogous to the work being done with spok

Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary

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3.76 rating

Comment 1: We all know the Dr Johnson portrayed in the classic Blackadder episode and we all use his book, the Dictionary, every day. This book explores the life and background of Johnson, as well as his struggle to write the world's first English dictionary. A great subject for a book but in places, quite boring and unreadable.[return][return]For readers who are linguists or lexicographers, you would probably give this book 5 stars, because a lot of the book examines the definitions that Johnson gave to words, its original Latin or Greek roots, arguments for and against Johnson's definitions and so on. For those of us who are not linguists or lexicographers, these pages come across as rather dry, pedantic, and downright boring. I wanted the book to be a straightforward history book / biography but instead we get a lesson in lingustics, word formation and quotes from literature.[return][return]I was however amused and perhaps a little impressed by Hitchings including the Blackadder episode in the book and I liked parts of the book where he wrote clearly, fluently and concisely. I also liked how he named each book chapter after a word in Johnson's dictionary along with Johnson's definition. That was rather clever.[return][return]This book is highly interesting and in places extremely fascinating. But the author has the tendency to ramble on and on in places which will make you start to flip pages. So only buy this if you are truly interested in the subject of linguistics, the history of the English language and a fan of biographies in general. Otherwise you may end up disappointed.

A Guide to Old English

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4.04 rating

Comment 1: This is my review for the Eighth Edition of Mitchell's Guide to Old English. Overall, I find it to be a useful introductory guide to the grammar, syntax and pronunciation of the language. It seems to be focused on guiding the reader through various Anglo-Saxon texts in order to become a better reader and translator. The back half of the book is exclusively OE texts (sans translations) for the reader to practice with. I like that, but I feel like there are maybe too many texts included . Perhaps Comment 2: Six weeks after I began I'm reading Old English thanks to the wonderful guidance of a good professor and this perceptive book. Mitchell & Robinson think of all the grammatical conundrums and explain them with simplicity so that in 4-6 weeks you to can read Anglo-Saxon poetry, and let there be no question - it's entirely worth the effort to translate the poems. Comment 3: I love Old English, and this is an old textbook that I keep trying to read again, but can't seem to find the time! One day! I'm putting it in the "read" category because I don't know when I'll ever have time to master it. Comment 4: Can't really comment on it as a guide for the autodidact, since we just used it for the OE texts at university, but a good introduction to some of the OE greats.

Style in Fiction: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose

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3.43 rating

Comment 1: Almost a linguistics theory book to understanding the complexities of prose. Useful for those -- such as AP Literature or college teachers -- who want to deeply undertstand an author's craft. Not a book for the casual reader. I read this for a graduate school course. Comment 2: Read only partially for work. A must read for those who do research on stylistics and want to back up their work with quantitative data.

Language and Mind

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3.88 rating

Comment 1: Noam Chomsky is one of those towering names one hears echoed in drunken college conversations about intellectual whatnot. Dropping a reference to his political activism or his linguistic theories is mandatory to covering all of your intellectual bases. I’m certainly guilty of engaging in not a few semi-inebriated conversations about Chomsyan linguistics without having had the slightest understand of it. Now, at least I can say I have the basic idea. So, as an act of good will, I have written a short summary, which might be of use to you in your next heady conversation over a bottle of wine.But before I get into the meat of his theories, a note on the style and format of this book. Chomsky is an able writer; he is direct, clear, and doesn’t use any unnecessary jargon. He embodies the best qualities of academic writing, in that he is always careful to qualify his arguments, to thoroughly explain his points, and to acknowledge and refute his opponents. As he says in the introduction, there is quite a bit of overlap in content between the six pieces in this book (three lectures and three essays). This redundancy would normally be annoying; but I found myself being thankful for it, as understanding Chomsky’s ideas without a linguistic background was no easy task. In any case, because this book (or at least most of it) wasn’t intended for specialists, it can—with a little bit of effort—be understood by a layman. This, combined with its short length, makes it a nice primer to his work.Chomsky begins by situating himself in a particular historical tradition—rationalism. One might, with justice, call Chomsky a Platonist, a Cartesian, a Leinbizian, or a Kantian. This is to contrast Chomsky with empiricists like Locke and Hume. At the time when Chomsky began his linguistic work, the dominant paradigm in psychology was behaviorism. Behaviorism attempts to account for animal behavior by proposing a system of associated stimuli and responses. Pavlov’s drooling dogs is the most frequently cited example of this line of thinking.At first, behaviorism seemed very promising. It was elegantly simple, and it looked like any animal could be conditioned to do anything with enough training. Behaviorism had the advantage of bringing together a variety of different phenomena all under the same explanatory umbrella, and of being amenable to experimental verification. In 1957, B.F. Skinner came out with his controversial Verbal Behavior, which attempted to explain language within this paradigm. Chomsky, in turn, wrote an enormously influential review of Skinner’s book, in which he criticized the argument, and, by implication, cast doubt on the whole behaviorist project.So what is Chomsky’s argument? And why does he call his thinking rationalist, and Skinner’s empiricist?Simply put, rationalist accounts of knowledge argue that certain ideas cannot be derived from sense perception or from experience, and so must be derived from reason, which is an innate faculty. Empiricism, by contrast, argues that there are not innate ideas or principles, and that sensory perception and experience are enough to account for all knowledge.From this short definition, one can see the connection between behaviorism—which explains knowledge as a set of ingrained habits related to regularly occurring stimuli—and John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in which he says: Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it, with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience: in that, all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself.Chomsky has some major problems with this line of thinking. Put simply: how can a human child acquire mastery of the enormously complex symbolic medium we call language, with such little exposure to it? If all knowledge is derived from experience, then this shouldn’t be possible. Therefore, Chomsky argues, the ability to learn language must be innate.At first, this argument seems a little silly. Nobody thinks that the ability to program computers or play chess is innate; we clearly aren’t born being able to do so; nor are we born with the ability to speak. Furthermore, a child learns whatever language is spoken around them; a Japanese child in France will learn French. Children gradually accumulate words and put them together into simple sentences, just like aspiring guitarists learn chords, melodies, and riffs. Why posit an innate faculty for language when we don’t posit one for guitar playing?Well, language is quite a special activity. For one, every normal adult is able to speak a language fluently. Some people are naturally able computer programmers; others are naturally able chess players; but linguistic competence is universal among psychologically healthy humans. Furthermore, language is special in that it makes infinite means of finite resources. There is no limit to the number of sentences that can be spoken in any given language, even though there is a finite number of words and grammatical tenses. Language is also intrinsically creative; we do not—like Pavlov’s dogs—simply say a particular sentence when we hear a bell, but come up with a sentence to suit the particular situation.Explaining language as simply a set of ingrained habits clearly can’t work, since habits don’t have any of these qualities (creativity, infinite potential for variation, universality). So considering that the potential linguistic output of a given person far exceeds the linguistic ‘input’ (all the utterances that the given person has ever heard) it is logical to posit some innate mechanism that facilitates the learning of language. Now the question is, what is the nature of this mechanism?This is where this review gets necessarily vague, as Chomsky’s explanation is fairly technical, and beyond my ken. But I’ll do my best.Chomsky starts off with his famous notion of universal grammar. Now, it important to point out that Chomsky isn’t arguing that English, Chinese, Norwegian, and Swahili can be boiled down to the same grammar. Rather, universal grammar is a set of conditions a potential grammar must meet in order to qualify as a human language. Several particular grammars may meet these conditions. These conditions play a crucial role in language acquisition. As Chomsky explains, these rules greatly reduce the number of admissible grammatical hypotheses that a learner must posit (unconsciously, of course) to account for the linguistic data they are exposed to. Put more concretely, when a young girl is hearing her mother speak English, she does not have to go through every logical possibility that might account for the data; in other words, she doesn't need to exhaust every potential hypothesis. Instead, she must simply chose from the various grammars that are permitted by the conditions imposed by universal grammar. Chomsky points out that universal grammar must be fairly restrictive, as the linguistic data presented to a child is usually “degenerate” (to use his word). Everyday speech is fragmentary, jagged, full of starts and stops, vague, and sometimes even ungrammatical. Yet, from this scanty and inconsistent information, the child assembles the marvelously complex system of communication we know as English. Mere induction is far too weak to make the jump from the data to the grammar; there isn’t enough time or information to account for every logical possibility. Remarkably, miraculously, we all come to the same conclusion—English grammar, in this case—from different information—whatever sentences happen to be spoken around us as infants.Now, you may ask, is language really that tricky? Why do we need these innate principles? Isn’t is just subject, verb, object? Nouns, verbs, and adjectives? That doesn’t sound insuperable.To this, Chomsky responds that our everyday notions of grammar cannot account for some basic qualities of language which normally go unnoticed. Consider these two sentences: (A) “I expected the doctor to examine John”; and (B) “I persuaded the doctor to examine John." Now, at first sight, these two sentences seem grammatically identical; the only difference is the difference of verbs. However, Chomsky points out that this surface-level similarity obscures a crucial difference on the deep level. This is apparent when we transform both A and B to make: (A1) “I expected John to be examined by the doctor”; and (B1) “I persuaded John to be examined by the doctor.”Now, notice that the meaning of A and A1 are identical; but when this same transformation is applied to B—supposedly grammatically identical to A—the meaning changes. Instead of the doctor being persuaded, it’s John. This is a subtle point that took me several attempts to understand, but the implication is this: Since every language-speaker instinctively knows that there are different operations necessary to turn A and B from the active to the passive voice, they must understand the grammatical relationship of both sentences on a deeper level than merely their surface form. If they only understood the surface-level grammar, they would make the mistake of turning B into B1, which changes the meaning of the sentence.This leads Chomsky to divide grammar into surface and deep levels. The deep structure must express the exact relationships between the meaning of the words; then, some transformational rules must apply to convert this deep-level meaning into the surface-level grammar of everyday speech. These transformational rules can derive different surface level manifestations of the same deep-level forms—such as A and A1. (Note that the deep structure is an entirely different concept from universal grammar. The deep-level grammar is a logical relationship between ideas, while universal grammar is a set of properties that any grammar must have in order to be an allowable grammar.)Because Chomsky believes that this deep structure must exist in order to account for some basic properties of grammar (such as the above example), learning a language is not so simple as we might be led to believe. Acquiring competency is not as simple as dividing words into verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc., but requires a grasp of these more abstract and intricate deep-level structures. These deep-level structures are, in turn, obscured by the transformational rules that convert them into surface-level grammar (as in the case of the apparently identical forms of A and B), which would make the task of apprehending the deep-level structures via induction and experience alone an impractical feat.I’m quickly getting to the end of my understanding of Chomsky’s ideas. I am certainly not in any sense qualified to pass judgment on the success or failure of his theories. I would like to say, however, that it seems fairly obvious to me that there must be certain innate qualities of the brain that enable individuals to learn language; the universality of language-competency, and ease of acquisition from limited data, makes this conclusion inescapable for me. The only question is: what specific properties must we attribute to the mechanism that enables this learning? Is it Chomsky’s hypothesis, or some other innate property?I also am sympathetic to Chomsky’s rationalism. It seems to me that the best critique of the empiricist account of learning came from the empiricist tradition itself, in the form of David Hume’s critiques of causality and induction. As Hume pointed out, even those two basic notions—without which nothing in daily life makes sense—cannot be derived from logic alone, nor from experience alone; the only explanation, as Kant later pointed out, is that the principles of causality and induction are innate (though Kant wouldn’t phrase it like that). But if we’re willing to allow that the idea of causality and induction are innate, why stop there? It seems that there isn’t any good reason not to continue positing innate principles that would allow humans to make sense of experience. Such an explanation would be compatible within a Darwinian framework, and would also be compatible with what we know about the specialized regions of the brain.But I will cease to speculate on matters of which I know nothing. (Well, until I write another long-winded book review.) For now, I only hope that this little summary may help you in your next drunken intellectual conversation.

Elements of Semiology

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3.83 rating

Comment 1: يضم هذا الكتاب الصغير الرائع مقتطفات صغيرة من إنتاج رولان بارت، فهو يشمل درس افتتاحى لكرسى السيميولوجيا فى كوليج دى فرانس، وحوار بين رولان بارت و م. نادو، إلى جانب ثالثة مقالات أخرى، أهمها مقالة عظيمة تقوم فكرتها على تمييز بين ما يسمى بالأثر الأدبى وما يسمى بالنص، وهذا العنصران لا يوجدان بشكل مستقل وواضح، والأغلب أنهما إحالاتان مجردتان من نزاع أطراف متشابكة ومتنازعة فى أى كتابة. يصف بارت "الأثر" بكل ما يخص خلفيتنا المعرفية التقليدية عن الأدب : فهو الكتابة التى تتمركز حول معنى محدد يُوصّله كاتب م Comment 2: Barthes is like the master of figuring out what physical artifacts and actions mean. This is the second book of his I've read (the other, Camera Lucida, was about photography). Basically, as the name implies, Elements of Semiology is a summary of the major innovations of semiology, which is the study of sign systems. Much of the basis of semiology comes from Saussure's Course in General Linguistics (which I've read in part), but then there were a few other theorists who took Saussure's work in d

Studies in the Way of Words

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4.02 rating

Comment 1: Моје познавање филозофије је ту негдје око нула посто, а познавање филозофије језика нешто мало мање од тога, но ипак сам дограбио ову књигу да читам, мотивисан једним курсом из логике који сам пратио на Курсери прије него што су похлепна ђубрад почела да наплаћују курсеве. Углавном, двоје професора су водили тај курс, један чико који се иначе бави филозофијом и његова више машинско-програмерски оријентисана колегица. Много добар курс. Елем, у једном од поглавља било је ријечи о вези између логи Comment 2: I decided to start writing a paper relating Grice's conversational maxims to the reference interview. We'll see what happens.

The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us

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3.55 rating

Comment 1: Linguist buffs take note because this is not your typical word book. Its subject is not word origins, the evolution of language, or the fine points of grammar. Instead The Secret Life of Pronouns is more psychology than entomology. It explores and analyzes the little words we use, and author James W. Pennebaker makes the case that it’s these tiny, forgettable words that tell a lot about our personality, emotional state, style of thinking and connections with other people. These “little words” ar Comment 2: I found the topic fascinating and the book is packed with all sorts of interesting discoveries about how our use of function words reflects our personalities, social status, gender, and so on. The author is clearly enthusiastic about the topic, although the book is a little heavy on the statistics for general reading. But after a bit, I realized that you need access to his computer program and the ability to feed it a ton of text to be able to analyze anything yourself—there's almost nothing tha Comment 3: This book's concepts were fairly interesting - the author says that by using computers to count the frequency of pronouns, articles, and other "background" words in people's speech and writing, you can discover things about their personalities, social class, gender, and more. His experiments revealed clear trends, and the science seemed pretty sound. However, language is such a complex animal that it seems that word-counting is an overly simplistic way of approaching it. Plus, the book itself is

When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge

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3.86 rating

Comment 1: A disappointing book, very repetitive and hectoring - on the one hand, lacks a coherent account of why languages are disappearing or how they might be saved, indeed disavowing any role for academic work in doing so, on the other hand, repeats again and again that languages preserve folk knowledge worth saving - without really showing why that folk knowledge is valuable. (That occasionally, but unpredictably, folk taxonomies of animals might line up with cladistic taxonomies, seems a bit of a str Comment 2: Harrison is passionate about the wealth of undocumented information contained in "small" languages, those with dwindling numbers of fluent speakers. He is less concerned with the linguistic characteristics of the languages than the cultural, biological, topological, temporal and even numerical ways that these languages describe their environment and history. He stresses how unaware we are of the incredible variety of human perspectives because so many languages are undocumented and disappearing. Comment 3: There are approximately 7000 living human languages. Of these, approximately 3500 are spoken by a total of 8 million people, or 0.1% of the world population. Mostly these are tribal people living in isolated villages or on remote islands. As they join the global economy, watch television and listen to the radio, and go to school, they learn the dominant language of their country or province and start speaking it more and their tribal language less. If they move to the city or marry outside the t

Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin

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3.67 rating

Comment 1: Subtitle: A biography of Latin. There are books, there are books for nerds, and then there are books for nerds which eschew such topics as physics or history (way too mainstream), and instead are entirely about the language Latin. We have hit a new level of geekiness here. I feel right at home.Not that I know much about Latin. But I liked the author's previous book, "Empires of the World", which was about how languages and political empires went together (or failed to), so I was willing to follow him as he wallowed in this particular empire/language pairing for over 300 pages, not counting appendices.The first thing he pointed out which surprised me (although in some sense I must already have known it), was that most of Latin's "life" occurs AFTER the fall of Rome. Here we take "life" to mean from the time the first recognizable form of it appeared, until the end of its common usage as a means of communication by people who were not language devotees, just using what was most convenient. Republic and Empire together, Rome lasted for over half a millenium, but it was well over a millenium after that before it ceased to be a common means of communication.Ostler covers all of these periods with more or less equal emphasis, from the early tussles between Latin and Etruscan, to the later superiority/inferiority complex with Greek, to the reasons why it was not supplanted by German even though the Germans took over the Empire, and then on through the various Medieval phases of simplification and reaction against the same (going back to Cicero again and again for their role model).There is a tolerable amount of actual Latin in all of this. If you can't tolerate any, well, this is probably not the book for you, but you don't have to actually know any Latin to find it interesting. You do probably have to be a bit of a linguiphile, but in truth there is more history than vocabulary. The attitude towards Latin of the people who spoke or read it changed with the culture of the time; for example the early Christian church was a great advocate of using simpler and more plebeian Latin, to help spread its message, but centuries later we find it preaching (pun intended) for the preservation of what had been the language of the proverbial "street", well past the time when it was any such thing. It says more about the history of the Church than it does about Latin.While I shed no tears for the Roman Empire, I do have to say that the idea of all the world's learned folk exchanging letters and books in a common, neutral language is still a tempting one. Any student in high school physics discussing the technical meaning of the word "work" can imagine how it might be useful to use different languages for deep thinking and for ordinary conversation.It also seems to have helped to convey a sense of solidarity between scholars across national borders, to be able to communicate freely within their community without hindrance, and to a certain degree without a public spotlight. If in Darwin's time Latin were still the language to publish a book such as "On the Origin of Species", might the theory of natural selection have been better able to ascend from new hypothesis to established theory without so much counterproductive brewhaha? Galileo published in Italian rather than Latin, and appears to have done so as a more or less deliberate provocation of the Vatican. Bully for him, but there is something to be said for the idea that Latin provided a low-censorship space for the exchange of ideas across Europe.Ostler's account of all this is enjoyable, but there is in any tale of Rome or classical culture an air of melancholy. Latin's persistence past the end of the Empire seems somewhat analogous to a Warner Brother's cartoon character, running of the edge of a cliff for half a dozen steps before they (and gravity) finally notice and plummet ignominiously. Latin today hangs on in odd niches (botany, legal terms, university insignia), not much more significant than Roman numerals.It's a helpful perspective, however, on the current state of languages such as English, French, Modern Standard Arabic, or Spanish, which today span large parts of the world but which are ultimately dependent on a conflux of politics, religion, and economics for their continued existence as living languages. Language is a reflection of how people view themselves, who they want to include and exclude in the conversation, and how they wish to be perceived. Seeing controversies on topics such as what is "proper" Latin (the way people speak, or the way our ancestors wrote) gives some perspective when modern commentators lament the state of written or spoken English. Moreover, the tale of Latin takes in the fall of Rome and the Enlightenment, two topics which are not only important but full of life and death struggle. I have no expectation that a passing knowledge of Latin's history will ever be useful at cocktail parties, even if one assumed I were to attend any, but I make no apologies. I liked this book.

The F Word

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3.63 rating

Comment 1: Best. Reference book. Ever. Great historical and literary citations. You'll learn some new and useful expressions and settle once and for all that argument over whether fist f*** is one word, two words, or hyphenated. Comment 2: This book caught my eye when I was browsing round a bookshop a few years ago. Well it is quite eye-catching - what with it being bright yellow and having the asterisked legend 'f***' embossed in black on the cover. Comment 3: Still think this is one of the greatest F***ing dictionaries! Looked up an expression and just kept flipping pages and next thing I knew two hours had disappeared. What more can you ask from a book? Comment 4: Who knew that so many f-word variations originated in wars? I’m always happy to expand my vocabulary, for better or worse, and I learned some exciting new ways to use this one :)

Linear B and Related Scripts

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3.81 rating

Comment 1: I got this from interlibrary loan by mistake, intending to borrow his longer and more detailed book on the Decipherment of Linear B (1967). This very short summary is, however, lucid, authoritative and includes a well-organized summary of what the author had evidently written at length elsewhere. The combination of ancient comparative language scholarship with cryptographic methods not only provides the basis for a sensible interpretation of Linear B, but extends to a cautious and critical asses Comment 2: John Chadwick is a collaborator with Michael Ventris, the man who broke the code of the Linear B language from Mycenae. This is a small book, not much more than a pamphlet, about how that problem was solved, and also about the problem that has yet to be solved, the decipherment of Linear A, a Cretan language that apparently predates Linear B. I'm fascinated by problems like this. Whenever I hear of a puzzle that has stumped the world for decades or centuries I perk right up. Anyway, I found this Comment 3: This is one of six volumes collectively entitled "Reading The Past." It was my first introduction to Linear B, long before the Internet and Wikipedia.

Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z

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3.91 rating

Comment 1: It was during a free day in Fukuoka in a horrible, ghastly, sinful bookshop that carries a selection of English books that would make any foreigner living in Japan tremble in delight and despair that so much information on science, Japanese literature, modern novels, beach reads, cookbooks, art books could exist for ingestion where I decided to forego another novel of pleasure and improve my mind through "extensive reading". Who would have believed that a randomly chosen book would prove to be so pleasurable?Sacks is writing about the alphabet from "a" to "z" and about how each letter was born, grew up, "married, divorced and now works at a library in Yale." (Do forgive the gratuitous literary references. I`ll cite them at the end, kay?). What it really does though, is just confirm what my whole sojourn in Japan has taught me: Language is the most shifty, flighty, indecisive invention that has ever popped out of human minds. Just take a glance at this general evolutionary course of our alphabet. Scholars believe that ancient Semitic soldiers, hired by Egypt probably plagiarized the hieroglyphic system. How do they know this? Ancient graffiti on ancient Egyptian roads of course! But seriously, the Semitic warriors found the symbols too complicated and dumbed them down into shapes that were easier to carve. These early carvings and sounds were the fledging predecessors of our modern alphabet. From there, the alphabet migrated to Phoenicia (of Odyssian fame), which was a country of great seafarers. These seafarers spread their literary disease across the Mediterranean where it infected the Greeks. The Greeks, from their invasions into Italy, passed on this ancient virus to the Etruscans who left it homeless in the streets of a little unknown city called Rome. The Roman Empire rises and falls. Then the French take a hand at changing the face and sounds of our letters so much so that when the Normans invade England, they decide to stuff these grammatical ideas down the throats of their new serfs!A problem with the book is that David Sacks is not a linguistic scholar and is writing this book for the average person. In that regard, sometimes he doesn`t trust his reader to make the correct mental jump and ends up leading them too much by the hand, like a concerned parent. (This is unlike our alphabet who was left to grown with little advice from its elders). Yet, Sacks is writing this book to inform and entertain, and it does! A lot! Like how "F" had a troublesome childhood or how "K" will forever be jealous of the ambiguous "C". And the book is spectucularly up-to-date on its linguistic information, having only been published in 2003. Personally, this book gave me a very good sense of how foreign languages are transcribed. The English language has been shifting and rolling about, changing every generation to either remain more true or become simpler to understand. Likewise, with the Japanese language, I think of its formative romaji years—when scholars were trying to figure out how to write Japanese in a language Westerners could understand. Or in Japanese, how many Western words will they ingest and turn into Japanese?If you`re a lover of language, you will enjoy this book. I`m going to bed now to read how "Z" made it to the end of the alphabet!

The Search for the Perfect Language

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3.9 rating

Comment 1: Fifteen percent of this book is thrillingly interesting; the other eighty-five is an unnecessary life strain. I would have given this book five stars if it were 100 pages long instead of 400. This excerpt, which I truly adore, was my very favorite part of the book: "In order to be able to convey meaning, a natural language must establish a connection between elements (or units) of the expression-form and elements (or units) of the content-form. Let us consider for a moment the word 'dogs.' The lexeme dog is a unit of the expression-form the content of which is (let us say) 'canine mammal'. The morpheme s is another unit of the expression-form that, in that position, means 'more than one'. I said 'in that position', because the same s as a sound in the word sorrow does not acquire the same content; it is not a morpheme and does not bear any specific meaning. In fact, natural language works by a double articulation.The units of first articulation (like words, or lexemes and morphemes arranged into syntagms) are meaningful; the units of second articulation (the phonemes of a natural language) are devoid of meaning. The sound d of dog (and, in this case, even the letter d of the written word) does not represent a part of a dog or of the definition of a dog. In English one can combine the sounds of dog to produce a radically different word like god. "Moreover, in Hjelmslev's terms the two planes of a natural language (form and content) are not conformal. This means that the expression-form and the expression-content are structured according to different criteria: the relationship between the two planes is arbitrary, and variations of form do not automatically imply a point-to-point variation of the corresponding content. If, instead of dog, we utter log, we do not mean a different kind of dog, or of animal, but something radically different."

Language and Symbolic Power

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4.22 rating

Comment 1: A treinta años de esta obra de Pierre Bordieu, bien vale la discusión sobre el efecto de hablar, su distancia con la lengua y las condiciones sociales de producción y circulación de aquello que se habla. Un tema aparentemente obvio, por serlo así, y circular tal idea así, se olvida o se minimiza y se crean discursillos totalizantes sobre el espacio social o el lenguaje llano, como determinantes de los efectos dentro de una comunidad linguística.No es lo mismo, no significan igual pero las relaciones sociales producen interacciones simbólicas que se dan mediante efectos de conocimiento y reconocimiento y estas relaciones se dan por la vía más expedita, el habla, no el lenguaje escrito.Uno de las claves es entender que los actos de palabra se dan en una coyuntura especial, que define las estructuras del mercado linguístico. Un ejemplo que siempre uso, no es lo mismo "echar los perros" dentro de un café con jazz de fondo a hacerlo en una plaza de mercado al mediodía.Si se tiene en cuenta la noción de coyuntura se pueden estudiar los efectos ideológicos que subyacen del uso de la lengua, el lenguaje y el habla.El valor simbólico no es lo mismo que el sentido del discurso, un sentido busca siguiendo el ejemplo anterior, enamorar, pero un valor simbólico mostraría que es una propuesta sin tiempo.La gran mentira que destroza las relaciones sociales, en política, en pedagogía, en una relación de pareja, es creer que existen palabras neutras.Frege decía que "las palabras pueden tener un sentido sin referirse a nada". Así que siempre ruedan varios sentidos en la comunicación.Pierre Bordieu aborda la política y la religión y una amenaza que treinta años después se divisa, existen discursos correctos, semánticamente vacios, al servicio de la autoridad fundamentalista, vale pensarlo en los insucesos acaecidos en Charlie Hebdo esta semana.La Revolución Francesa uso como arma el diccionario para crear las clases sociales y los límites de autoridad nos presenta Bordieu como buen sociólogo historiador, bien valdría pensarlo si otra arma no ha sido la Biblia.Algo que los radicales dentro de nuestra sociedad les duele reconocer es que toda dominación simbólica implica una forma de complicidad.El valor social del habla se da en organizartse en un sistema de diferencias, creando la frontera, no necesariamente creando la dialéctica de diferencias.La excelencia linguística quizá para todo grupo social o ghetto urbano busca la distinción y la corrección, Bordieu se encarniza con la sociedad burguesa en sus ejemplos.La lengua legítima es semiartificial por la necesidad de corrección y la economía de esfuerzo o economía del lenguaje si recordamos a Jacobson. ¿Por lo tanto nos preguntamos si todo código sea del grupo que fuere, es un código culto?El discurso es un signo de riqueza, a ser valorado, porque sugiere la noción de autoridad, quien usa el discurso, busca autoridad, siempre."La competencia linguística no es una simple capacidad técnica sino una capacidad estatutaria que suele venir acompañada por una capacidad técnica".A este punto, Saussure arde en su tumba. Bordieu quizá se va a la otra frontera, la sociedad determina en su coyuntura el lenguaje."la imposición linguística - esa especie de eficacia mágica que pretende ejercer no ya la orden o la consigna, sino también en el discurso ritual, la simple comunicación, la amenaza o el insulto - sólo puede funcionar en tanto en cuanto se reúnan condiciones sociales absolutamente exteriores a la lógica propiamente linguística del discurso".El enunciado performativo - de autoridad- presupone un poder. No hay un poder simbólico sin una simbólica del poder y esta prerrogativa espacio temporal ha puesto miles de instituciones en crisis. Bordieu hace treinta años se encarniza con la iglesia y Marx.El discurso es complejo de manejar, Bordieu afirma "no todo el mundo puede afirmar todo".La forma óptima del discurso y de ese intercambio linguístico del habla es que hay una intención expresiva y una censura mezcladas, ya que el valor del mismo, se da por anticiparse a la coyuntura o condiciones establecidas, "en el instante", el entrecomillado es idea mía.El radicalismo pretende quemar todo, y empezar de cero, pero todo ejercicio crítico parte de unos preconceptos y eso lo compartimos a bien de Bordieu, "la ciencia social tiene que vérselas con realidades que han sido ya nombradas, clasificadas, realidades que tienen nombres propios y nombres comunes, títulos, signos, siglas. Así, so pena de asumir actos de lógica y necesidad... debe de tomar como objeto las operaciones sociales de nominación y los ritos de institución a través de las cuales esas realidades se cumplen".La felicidad objetiva y subjetiva de la religión se logra por la ignorancia absoluta del otro, del lector, del feligrés.El concepto de frontera en las diferencias sociales tiene una significación social importante."Hablar de rito de institución, es indicar que cualquier rito tiende a consagrar o a legitimar, es decir, hacer desestimar en tanto que arbitrario o reconocer en tanto que legítimo, natural, un límite arbitrario".Arbitrario y natural no es lo mismo, por favor.El estado de relación se da entre fuerzas simbólicas y entre fuerzas materiales, allí navega el discurso individual.Un buen punto a mantener, es que toda teoría, sea la que sea, es un programa de percepción.Y que debajo de todo aparato científico hay una base mítica.

The Language and Thought of the Child

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3.94 rating

This book is for anyone who has ever wondered how a child develops language, thought, and knowledge. Before this classic appeared, little was known of the way children think. In 1923, however, Jean Piaget, the most important developmental psychologist of the twentieth century, took the psychological world by storm with The Language and Thought of the Child. Applying for the first time the insights of social psychology and psychoanalysis to the observation of children, he uncovered the ways in which a child actively constructs his or her understanding of the world through language. The book has since been a source of inspiration and guidance to generations of parents and teachers. While its conclusions remain contentious to this very day, few can deny the huge debt we owe to this pioneering work in our continuing attempts to understand the minds of the child.

Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America

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4.03 rating

Comment 1: I actually got the chance to read this for a course I took on Black poetry last fall and recently finished reading the chapters that weren't required for the course. Now I understand why they weren't required. Comment 2: Seminal text on understanding the beauty and richness of the language of African-Americans. this was another book I leaned heavily on for my Senior Thesis. Just reread it a couple of months ago. Comment 3: very cool. in contesting, implicitly, the existence of a 'standard English,' perhaps sets up rival & antithetical standard black englishes, which may not be persuasive. Comment 4: This was a great book that made me think about differences in language that I have never thought of before.

Larpers and Shroomers: The Language Report

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3.62 rating

Comment 1: If you’re interested enough in the English language to be spending your time reading a review of this book, you already know everything I’d normally put in the lead paragraph: that any language changes over time; that English – far from being an exception – is a premier example; and that writers and speakers of English are exuberant inventors, promiscuous borrowers, and shameless repurposers of words. Suffice it to say, then, that

Words Words Words

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3.94 rating

Comment 1: "Words Words Words" was one of the most enjoyable nonfiction books that I've read this year. It's hard to categorize the book, though. In my library, I have a number of books on English grammar, word usage, and writing style. Words³ doesn't fit neatly into any of those categories, and yet, I think it would likely improve anyone's writing by giving them a better understanding of lexicology (the meaning of words) and etymology (the origin of words). But I think non-writers would appreciate the boo Comment 2: David Crystal has become my latest verbivore guru. After exhausting both Bryson & Lederer's musings on the English Language in countless books, I've recently discovered this charming and prolific Brit who appears to be publishing a book a year. (Lucky me!) In this concise and descriptivist jaunt through the Mother Tongue in recent times, Crystal also provides a way for readers to conduct their own informal statistical analysis of their approximate wordhoard by grabbing the nearest 1500+ page Comment 3: Kudos to the author David Crystal for producing such a treasure trove of information about the English language. This book in particular has widen my gaze about English & how it functions. This book is short & written with simple English. It tackles many topics regarding words, grammar, accent etc... The English language is fascinating & has no limits. It is vibrant & lively. I am really lucky to witness its revolution !!

Do You Speak American?

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3.68 rating

Is the growing influence of Spanish threatening to displace English in the United States? Are America's grammatical standards in serious decline? Has the media saturation of our culture homogenized our speech? These and other questions catapulted Robert MacNeil and William Cran, coauthors of the language classic The Story of English, on a journey that took them around the country in search of answers. Do You Speak American?, the companion volume to a PBS special, is the tale of the surprising discoveries they made while interviewing a host of native speakers and observing everyday verbal interactions across the country. Examining the histories and controversies surrounding both written and spoken American English, MacNeil and Cran address highly emotional anxieties and assumptions about our language-and offer some unpredictable responses. With insight and wit, MacNeil and Cran bring us a compelling follow-up to The Story of English that is at once a celebration and a potent study of our singular language.

The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion's Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone

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3.09 rating

Comment 1: As a historian, I cannot bear the historical present tense except in small doses. But the worst offense Dr. Meyerson makes is not checking his facts. About halfway through the book he notes that the last king of Egypt, Farouk, died in a Naples restaurant in the 1960s. Professor Meyerson provides a few other lurid details, but when I went to research King Farouk, I found that he had died in Rome, not Naples, not even close to Naples. Such a colossal error so easily verified made me question the r Comment 2: This sounds like it should be an exciting book about the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and how Champollion figured out how to read heiroglyphics. Unfortunately what the book is is a confusing mishmash that jumps around through time for no discernible reason. The author also spends way too much time quoting random literature that has nothing to do with the main story. The deciphering of herioglyphics isn't even really discussed until tjhe last chapter and then only briefly. Overall a confusing a Comment 3: I got excited about this book after hearing about Napoleon's Savants in Egypt in a 'Stuff You Missed in History" podcast a long time ago. It was interesting at first, but just really poorly written. Meyerson jumps around so much with years and back and forth between Napoleon and Champollion that I was really annoyed the whole time. It had potential, but seemed to focus more on Napoleon than Champollion and the Rosetta Stone. In fact, by the time he discusses Champollion's decoding discovery, he

Islamic Calligraphy

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4.67 rating

Comment 1: This is terrifyingly good. It's glossy, standard academic book size, so in between A5 and A4, nearly 700 glossy pages, and it is a one-stop shop. And it is actually readable if you can handle a lot of detail, although I'm thinking I might prefer my intro to be a more outline thing. It is COMPREHENSIVE - academic and artistic. And it is also a complete introduction, she knows that we know nothing. It is not clear to me whether she goes through variants in addition to the basic initial, medial, final glyphs - maybe that happens when she discusses individual scripts - but otherwise it is really comprehensive.

Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought

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4.05 rating

Comment 1: So, I realize that most of the reviews of Lakoff's book are positive [normally I don't look at other goodreads reviews before writing my own, because it helps to be in the dark] but I think that's reasonable, given what the book is. The book is an account to give an alternative account of what philosophy should be (Lakoff's "empirically responsible" programme) given a set of facts of the matter in cognitive science. Lakoff attempts to show that the historical tradition of western philosophy, from Plato to Aristotle up and through Descartes and even into the 20th century, holds a number of positions which can be shown to be empirically false. That is, they entail a bunch of claims about the structure of the human mind that are just not true on the basis of the best available cognitive science.I think that is a great project, and one I have a lot of sympathy for. I think that there are definitely large portions of the western philosophical canon that are thought of as being strictly a priori that have entailments that can show them to be empirically false. But if you looked up at the stars above the review, you'll note that somewhere in here, somewhere in this project that I'd be generally sympathetic to, Lakoff lost me.There are two primary strands of complaint against any piece of writing. The first is that the ideas are simply mistaken. The second is that the text is not constructed well. I think that you can give 4+ star reviews to things that fail on the former count, or at least you should be able to; the latter is harder to forgive, and (unfortunately) that's where Lakoff goes wrong. Large sections of the text are redundant, which is fine for emphasis in a lot of situations, but it really makes this book gratuitously long and weighty, despite the sections characterizing the central ideas being relatively brief. There are times where the redundancy leads the book to feel condescending, because it uses the redundancy to illustrate rudimentary connections between ideas that are pretty obvious just from the organization of the book, or to remind readers of connections made explicitly in other sections. Perhaps the book is just written for folks who are new to philosophy, and so it comes off as often having a very low expectation of the ability of readers to stick ideas together.More problematic, though, is a sort of intellectual problem with the book. It often glosses over a huge number of claims in the philosophical canon and attempts to give very general responses. That's actually fine; given the length of the book, expanding the project by trying to go into detail would be borderline insane. However, Lakoff feeds the redundancy problem in the book by rearticulating more or less the same objections to a half dozen historically discrete philosophers. Instead of identifying traditions in philosophy that stick together on, say, the philosophy of mind, Lakoff attempts to respond to different historical epochs and winds up with something even more redundant and gratuitous.The ideas in the book are, by and large, very interesting. The notion that we could talk about logic in terms of embodiment is a cool one, though I have a feeling it would require more of a familiarity with the content of classical and contemporary logics than Lakoff has. That said, Lakoff sets up a good program for talking about these sorts of ideas. While there are definitely some points where he is overreaching, that's necessary in a book that is really trying to lay out a program for talking about philosophy in terms of cognitive science. For what it's worth, as far as illustrating a project in very general terms, I think Lakoff does a good job.The book is worth reading for those who are going to seriously dive into the discussions of one of the many areas discussed in the text, especially the issues of the relationship between a particular subdiscipline of philosophy (e.g. logic, mathematics, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, etc.) and the philosophy of mind and psychology. Lakoff has a very peculiar view on these subjects. However, and this is a big however, I do think that while Lakoff pursues an "empirically responsible" philosophy, readers should attempt to also find some philosophers who argue for a "philosophically responsible" cognitive science, like Dennett and Searle and Churchland, in order to counterbalance the work of the cognitive scientists like Lakoff, or Tony Damasio. Otherwise, the view can come out rather confused.

Writing Systems: A Linguistic Introduction

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3.85 rating

Comment 1: The most important sentence in this book is the one regarding Chinese on pages 164-165: "(Women's liberators might point out the number of cases where words for unpleasant character-traits such as jealousy are written with the 'woman' signific [the word he uses for 'radical']; but the incidence of this sort of thing is no greater than that of comparable sexist assumptions in the spoken English language — cf. bitch vs. dog, for instance.)"Sampson is trying to suggest that Chinese is not inferior to English (a funny thought since Chinese has been around for 4,000 years) by pointing out that they both denigrate women (also ironic as a justification). When one finds a pervasive theme running through two disparate cultures, it would seem that this might be an orienting factor for all language: women are denigrated because they are the underpinning of written language. Written language was created to control women and other commodities.Page 189: "The axiom of Western linguistics according to which a language is primarily a system of spoken forms, and writing is a subsidiary medium serving to render spoken language visible, is very difficult for an East Asian to accept."This Californian has a hard time accepting it as well. If the data is there, why would a linguist not consider it? This seems like a form of denial.Page 24: In regards to date nomenclature, and the use of "B.C." and "A.D.", Sampson writes, "Those of us who acknowledge Jesus as the Saviour have more substantial ways of demonstrating our allegiance."I almost stopped reading the book after this sentence, but I'm glad his inappropriate statement of faith didn't deter me as this book is extremely informative considering how few books tackle an overview of all writing systems. Keep in mind it was written in 1985, and our current ability to compare all written languages via the computer will allow us to see that fertility and procreation were the dominant concerns at the time that Chinese Seal Script, Sumerian cuneiform, and the Egyptian hieroglyphs were created. Humans are animals, and we are driven by animalistic needs. For more info: www.OriginofAlphabet.com.

The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages

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4.23 rating

Comment 1: This book is a product of its time. The author was multilingual but not a linguist. The book was written right after WWII. The author's purpose was to aid people to be able to communicate with each other so that understanding between people would contribute to the prevention of future wars. Comment 2: This is too awesome not to own. I guess this is the text that set Sun Ra on his whole freaky language trip? Anyways it's not the kind of book I can't read cover to cover but even a partial reading gives you a much better and more holistic sense of how language works. Comment 3: One of those I can't read all at once. Really good, but is really a very dense, term-heavy text book about the structure of language. Honestly, is probably used for language studies majors. Skimmable if you're interested in the topic, so don't let that deter you. Comment 4: Anyone who loves languages simply has to read this book cover to cover. Bodmer manages to present many of the more interesting anecdotes of linguistic lore in a truly accessible fashion, which alone is worth the time of working through this sizable volume.

Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy

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3.65 rating

Comment 1: THE CHINESE LANGUAGE: Fact and Fantasy, by the legendary pedagogue of Chinese John DeFrancis, is an imprecisely titled book. What DeFrancis seeks to show here is that the Chinese character writing system is inefficient, unnecessary, and detrimental to mass literacy. Comment 2: This book will be of interest only to those who want to dig into the linguistics of Chinese. For people learning Chinese it might illuminate some of the problems you are having. Comment 3: Informative, but I felt some parts of the book dragged on and the author repeated his main ideas too many times.

The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots

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4.3 rating

Comment 1: The best English dictionary I've read. Period. I was surprised by quite a few entries -- words have interesting histories, don't they? If you are into linguistics or you wish to become a wordsmith of the first rank, this is a must. Comment 2: Joseph Shipley provides a great in-depth explanation in "The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots."

Of Cigarettes, High Heels, and Other Interesting Things: An Introduction to Semiotics

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3.76 rating

Comment 1: This is a solid introduction to semiotics. The first two chapters delve into theory and technical definitions. They're very approachable, at no point did I feel like I was being assaulted with jargon or get confused. The next chapters use a simple sketch as a jumping off point, talking about various things in society that may be of semiotic interest (pop culture/advertising, fashion, art, technology, language, etc). These explanations aren't terribly deep and seem pretty intuitive once you get t Comment 2: I'm already interested in semiotics thanks to my philosophy and lit theory classes, so I can only hope that this book won't disappoint. Comment 3: Heh. I wrote a paper in college on the semiotics of smoking. One of my fervent non-smoking friends read it and said

Marxism and the Philosophy of Language

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4.15 rating

Comment 1: An exceptional theorisation of language and communication. Intimately related to pragmatic approaches to the discursive production of societies (e.g. Mead, Wittgenstein), Voloshinov approach offers a philosophy of language linking daily interaction with ideological (re)production of social 'structures'.

The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain

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4.23 rating

Comment 1: Terrence W. Deacon presents a reasonable, but not conclusive case for the co-evolution of the brain and language. The way he describes it, they kind of feedback on each other. He is against the Chomskian theory of there being a dedicated innate brain structure for a universal grammer wich all languages are thought to share in this theory. Having agrued against Chomsky and others, he does not deny that children have a special ability to learn language. He believes that languages use children to e Comment 2: This is a great book that can get a little dense and technical at times. The main premise of the text is that what really separates humans from animals and other forms of life is language. Humans use language symbolically as opposed to indexically. The explanation for what this means was one of the hardest parts of the book to get. What it boils down to is that animals, particularly smart animals like chimps and dogs, can map words to specific meanings but they cannot do things like string words Comment 3: This impressive book by an imminently qualified brain specialist, who also displays a firm grasp of language acquisition mechanisms and associated disorders, is structured in three parts, each having 4-6 chapters (see the table of contents at the end of this review). At 525 pages, each packed with information, it isn’t an easy read but persevering pays out handsomely at the end. One appealing feature of the book is its many helpful diagrams and charts.

The Articulate Mammal

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4.09 rating

An established bestseller, The Articulate Mammal is a concise and highly readable introduction to the main topics in psycholinguistics. This fifth edition brings the book up-to-date with recent theories, including new material on: the possibility of a 'language gene' post-Chomskyan ideas language within an evolutionary framework spatial cognition and how this affects language how children become acclimatized to speech rhythms before birth the acquisition of verbs construction and cognitive grammar aphasia and dementia. Requiring no prior knowledge of the subject, chapter by chapter, The Articulate Mammal tackles the basic questions central to the study of psycholinguistics. Jean Aitchison investigates these issues with regard to animal communication, child language and the language of adults, and includes in the text full references and helpful suggestions for further reading. The accompanying website to this book can be found at: www.routledge.com/textbooks/978041542....

The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason

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4.36 rating

Comment 1: A great book which you would appreciate even more if you are familiar with the standard, model-theoretic approach to semantics. Johnson's arguments are solid and convincing but it is yet unclear how operational his theory of (linguistic) meaning is. Comment 2: This is a great account of what it is to be human. We understand the world around us through our experiences, but it's our imagination and metaphorical relation to the empirical data that we gather that we can relate and perceive what we know. Comment 3: A very clear argument for the value of non-objecivist theories of meaning, giving proper emphasis to the place of understanding and metaphor, among other things. Comment 4: Excellent companion for “the metaphors we live by”, leading gently into “embodied cognition”. One of several incredible books relating to these subjects.

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language

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3.67 rating

Comment 1: In much the way that modern scholars tend to pit Alan Turing against Ludwig Wiggenstein—smug and mechanical versus gruff and irreverent—Kenneally throws Noam Chomsky in the ring with Phillip Leiberman. Chomsky is Platonist at heart, a man who sees things in terms of formal systems, clean mathematical structures, innate capacities. Lieberman, conversely, has little use for pretty boxes and arrows. He sees language from the bottom up—a messy, soft-tissue affair that could only have emerged through Comment 2: FINALLY. I took ages to read this book. I struggle with reading book-length, general studies in language and linguistics these days; I keep expecting the book to organize itself like an academic article, briefly and bluntly stating its argument so I can decide whether to agree with it or not. That is probably why I found the sections on neuroscience, animal behavior, and evolution the most interesting and easy to read--because I know comparatively less about these subjects, so I bring fewer prec Comment 3: This book has one glaringly obvious flaw: It never tells you what the first word was! Ha, ha, but seriously folks, that would require us to know who the first human was, and the theory of evolution says there's no such person. Besides, language is not a single "thing", it's a bunch of related abilities, such as the ability to mimic, tohold joint attention, and to interact in social-group hierarchy, among other abilities that we share with our animal relatives, and not just primates or animals wi

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots

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4.46 rating

Comment 1: I did not actually read the dictionary. However, the book contains about thirty-four pages of introduction that go over the basics of what it means to be an Indo-European language, how proto-Indo-European roots are discovered, what the branches of Indo-European are, and what we know about the culture of the proto-Indo-Europeans. That was very interesting. Comment 2: This book makes excellent toilet reading. Did you know that the words "red" and "worm" share a root? Well duh, cos worms were used to make red dye. It gets better: "guest" and "hostile" and "guess" and "host" also share a root---you never know just who is showing up at your door. Strangely gripping. Comment 3: word nerds should love this. will only encourage greater reliance on the etymological fallacy, however!

Syntactic Structures

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3.87 rating

Comment 1: A difficult book to review... On the one hand I admire Chomsky's ability to think out of the box in a period (the fifties... long time ago already!) where the rest of linguistics was perhaps staying in that same box a bit too much. He looks at the description of language in a fresh new way which offers all scholars of language food for thought.Nevertheless, as a modern linguist, I can't help but see this book as 'the one that started it all', by which I mean many decades of linguistics based on a certain assumption that has yet to be proven - Universal Grammar. It's a construct, and the abstract way in which it is treated in generative linguistics gives our study a scientific air, as if we were studying types of rocks. The study of grammar (as opposed to meaning, or even actual language use) is promoted to be the main object of study.Somehow, I think linguistics would have been better off if other areas of study (phonetics, morphology, dialectology, sociolinguistics) had become or remained equally 'hip'. Sadly, they did not, and only in recent times is some of the damage being repaired... Comment 2: To a reader in 2015, this book isn't nearly as eye-opening as it must have been when it was published nearly 60 years ago. Most of what's in here is taught in Linguistics 101 classes, so without the background of what was previously "common knowledge" in linguistics, it's not as groundbreaking as its reputation makes it seem. That being said, though, it's still "Syntactic Structures," for chrissake, right? Some of the transformations are a bit hard to follow, especially for someone without a solid background in syntax (like me).

World Literature

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3 rating

Our Marvelous Native Tongue

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4.14 rating

Comment 1: Did you know that the word "jungle" started out meaning "desert"? That is one of the many fascinating things Robert Claiborne discusses in this great book. He describes the history and development of the English language, from its misty roots in Indo-European, up to the time of his writing. I love this book every time I read it, even if it was written 24 years ago. I'm a word geek, so I'm constantly devouring books about the creation of the OED, or the history of English, etc. I didn't realize till I read the Wikipedia article that Claiborne wasn't a trained linguist; you wouldn't know that, reading the book. He had a scholarly mind, and edited and wrote science articles, so he was qualified to take on the subject, once he'd done some thorough personal study. I enjoy how he brings the subject down to earth from the stratosphere of academic study. He talks to the reader like an ordinary person. He makes the growth of the English language vivid and alive.He also demonstrates what places like the French Academy haven't yet learned, even after a few hundred years: you can't straitjacket a language. And there is no such thing as a "pure language." A few hundred years ago when Jonathan Swift proposed an institution to try to freeze English, a high percentage of the new French words that Swift and his pals complained about were the second wave of French imports. Swift et al constantly used words from the first wave, to complain about the second wave, and didn't seem to notice. The best you can do with a languge is try to standardize some grammatical rules so people using different dialects, with different accents, can still communicate intelligibly in writing and speech. But beyond that -- you'll never freeze a language in place. So the word "jungle," which originally meant "desert," gradually changed to mean "uncultivated land." And gradually changed again, to mean "uncultivated forest." Thence, to the meaning we understand today. The meaning and use of words is determined by the users, not imposed on them from some Authority, some god, some government.In a recent example, which I'm sure would have had Claiborne screaming in glee, McDonalds has been petitioning the Oxford English Dictionary to change its definition of the word "McJob." As the OED describes it, the word currently means, "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects."This has upset McDonalds. Yet the thing is -- the OED didn't make up the definition! They just noticed (with many citations) how ENGLISH SPEAKERS ACTUALLY USE THE WORD -- and recorded it. (My view: if McDonalds objects to the definition of "McJob," they should change the nature of the damn jobs, so people no longer view them that way! Ahem.)I heard the Editor-at-Large of the Oxford English Dictionary interviewed about this on CBC Radio. The interviewer asked what the chances were that the definition would be changed as a result of the petition. The Editor replied, "None at all." The only thing that would change the definition would be a change in how people actually use the word.And that's exactly Robert Claiborne's point, in this book. You can trace the waves and discover when (and often why) certain words entered English. But you can't stop them coming in, and you can't stop the language from evolving. The only languages that don't evolve are dead.

Vocabulum: Or, The Rogue's Lexicon

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3.83 rating

Comment 1: This is an amazing find and would make a great gift for anybody with a love for the language of the underclasses or law enforcement...or crime! So many great ethnic phrases and terms here. This is an authentic joy to peruse. I got the 1977 edition, which is tall and white, rather than the 2008 edition, which may be better suited for a bookcase. I think that old one was only $13 new!

Portraits of 'The Whiteman': Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols Among the Western Apache

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3.52 rating

Comment 1: I really liked the jokes themselves (the appendix is great for this) and their line-by-line analysis, but a lot of the more general commentary in the opening chapters was dull -- it was either really obvious stuff, or else so coded in jargon that I just got annoyed. Like I said though, the jokes themselves -- the portraits of whitemen -- were really interesting, not just in the ways they worked, but in the ways they gave the reader a little view into the culture. One of my favorite things was that apparently Western Apaches find it truly odd that white ppl get angry and yell at machines when they don't work. They also think it's weird how often we state the obvious. I love knowing about all the ways other cultures find white Americans strange. Comment 2: Pretty interesting book. It analyzes the difference in the "Whiteman" culture from the Western Apache by looking at the linguistic differences. The first half does this by looking at how the Western Apache joke by mimicking English speakers. The first chapter however, focuses on the use of the word "Whiteman" in different Native American cultures. Comment 3: Definitely dated, so seemingly obvious things are the focus but it's an interesting look into one culture that gets you thinking about how people communicate humor in different ways.

The Study of Language

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3.93 rating

Comment 1: IMHO a great introductory book for those who want to know more and get acquainted to linguistics. It doesn't necessarily focus solely on English giving many examples of how things work in other languages, more or less spoken and known. Moreover it gives very good explanations even for beginners and study questions at the end of each chapter encouraging the student/reader to make use of the notions just acquired and deepen their knowledge. It also quotes 'Me talk pretty one day' by David Sedaris at the beginning of one chapter and has some very funny insights! Comment 2: This book basically covers everything about language. From how language developed through first and second language acquisition, sign language, the language centers in the brain, the social role of language and the developement of language through time. However, I don't feel that it is very thorough on the different subjects but rather gives the reader a general overview of these. I read it as part of my university studies and at this level I expect more. But definitely a good introduction to the study of language! Comment 3: I read this book for my entrance exams and the first thought I had when I was eyeing the book through was 'Ugh no way, I dont care', but when I actually started reading I was positively surprised - there were times when I didn't want to put the book down! It was written really skillfully and the examples were ones you'll remember. The book was easy to understand and it covered nicely so many aspects. I even went on to recommend it to people who didn't have anything to do with English studies, so

Essential Introductory Linguistics

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3.76 rating

Comment 1: Grover Hudson, professor of linguistics @ Michigan State Uni., makes clear what is important or essential & omits what is not in his comprehensive, linguistic textbook. His book is strictly selective, highly structure focused, 2 the point & informative. That`s why I think the book can serve as a study guide as well as the textbook 4 a course! It includes 28 chapters & talks about different fundamental points which can be presented in modern linguistics. If u r the 1 who wants 2 start studying linguistics from a suitable source, u`ll find it useful... Try it now!!! Comment 2: I finally made it through this book, it absolutely had a central contribution to my understanding of linguistics , some parts of this book were truly enjoyable for me , how our mind controls our discourse , how we speak , what mistakes we make , and above all the fulcrum function of the left-hemisphere of brain in determining the types of nouns and morphemes we choose . I think this book has implanted a faint passion in me to go after Pragmatics.....

How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die

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3.72 rating

Comment 1: Personally I found this book frustrating: It covers too much material in too few pages (and my edition is almost 500 pages of very small print). The coverage of each topic was too superficial to be engrossing. I already knew a lot of the material and was disappointed not to learn more: He would mention something that would pique my interest, but then move right on to something else. For the material I didn't already know, the discussion was too cursory to really stick: no examples, analysis, or anecdotes. I don't feel like I know any more than I did before I read the book. Also I don't think he had room for his writing style to really shine the way it does in some of his books.That said, this is David Crystal, so of course the writing is very clear and pithy. And I did enjoy the section on conversations (if he has written a whole book on this topic I would like to read it... and perhaps suggest it to a couple friends...), and I especially enjoyed his attack on the Lynne Trusses of the world (more even, oddly, than his whole book on the topic, The Fight for English). Comment 2: This books is everything you need about language! Is so easy to read because you don't have to follow a specific order. If you want to know about semantics, skip to the middle; if you want to know about phonetics, take it from the beginning; if you want to learn about multilingualism, be my guest and skip everything till the very end!I wished I had read this book before I started majoring in linguistics, or even before I decided on what I wanted to major on. If you love languages but you are not sure about what you might learn, or if you might like it, GRAB THIS BOOK! I dare to say it has EVERYTHING I have learn thus far being a linguistics major. It was also great to read before my CST test because it was a fun way to review everything and to learn a little more :)I recommend this book to all language, grammar, writing lovers.

Language and Linguistics

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3.74 rating

Comment 1: God help you if you want to learn about linguistics on you're own. The book helps enormously, but half the time it's very dry and the other half it's technobabble (or linguobabble, I guess) and it doesn't do a good job of reminding you of things you were supposed to have learned earlier on. For example, I took a break between chapter three and chapter four, and forgot most of the stuff from the earlier chapters. I had to go back and reread them. I decided to start taking notes, and that helped, Comment 2: Oh! this book is outstandingly elucidated and detailed about the so-called "linguistics" . I really did whatever it took me, and finally I got it.

A Course in Phonetics [With CDROM]

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4.05 rating

Comment 1: Ladefoged's "A Course in Phonetics" is one of the most well-known and best phonetics books around. It is an excellent volume covering just about every element one must know to have a solid base in phonetics. The breakdown favors native English speakers, (and American ones in the US edition, at least) first providing a clear description of the phonetics of English including prosodic features, consonants, and vowels before moving on to all other sound systems. It is fantastically complete given the size.One of the strengths of the volume lies in the insightful walkthroughs on producing some of the more difficult sounds, using such hints as how to determine which method of articulation one uses to produce the American English "R." To determine whether one bunch the tongue or curl the tip up, carefully insert a toothpick between one's teeth and judging by the point of contact on the surface or bottom of the tongue, it is easy to figure out. Other techniques, such as sucking in air to feel exposed areas for laterals, all provide extremely helpful ways of both identifying and articulating nearly all sounds. Furthermore, each chapter end includes a bevvy of performance exercises one can use to practice and alternate between sounds, getting down the rhythm of expression.One of the only real weaknesses to the volume is in the CD portion. While immensely helpful, the CD was not updated between the 5th and 6th edition (even though it has "6th" printed on it). The exercises on the CD therefore do not match those in the book, yet it is really only a different order so still usable. On that point, I really noticed no differences between the 5th and 6th edition other than the exercises, which pisses me off to the classic tune of the publisher's release of a new edition for no legitimate reason. Especially given this book is expensive as sin (I paid around $120 for a new edition).Those bureaucratic complaints aside, this book is the best there is currently for phonetics from of the most important people to have worked in the field. The illustrations and charts are extremely helpful for driving home points, the aforementioned descriptions are useful, and the glossary in the end is excellent. If you want to study some phonetics, get this.

Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution

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3.91 rating

Comment 1: Jackendoff is a distinguished linguist, and he is qualified to give a general overview of linguistics as few people are. Language is a specialized mental ability, like binocular vision or walking. It is specific to the human species - but many mammals have such specific abilities: the nose-touch sense of the star-nosed mole, the electric sense of the platypus, the echolocation of microbats and toothed whales. Like learning to walk, teething and puberty, learning a native language occurs at a specific age. Someone exposed to a language from birth learns it, on average, better than someone exposed to it at age 6; at age 12 it is worse still; at age 18 still. After age 18 the ability to learn a new language levels off, and becomes a kind of generic cognitive ability, like the ability to play chess or to acquire a professional skill. Universal grammar is another name for this ability to acquire a native language in childhood.Jackendoff believes that generative grammar is too "syntactocentric" to describe language properly. He gives diagrams for five of Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories developed from 1968 to 1993; they are becoming ever more ornate. Instead, he thinks that phonology, syntax and semantics are all equally important generative systems, and the lexicon, stored in long-term memory, serves as the interface between each pair. What is actually stored in memory aren't words but some sort of combination of roots and morphological rules: a highly inflected language like Turkish can have as many as 10,000 possible words for each word in a poorly inflected language like English; surely, a native speaker of Turkish does not memorize 10,000 times as much as a native speaker of English. Syntax cannot be the only important component of language because a large percentage of utterances stand outside of syntax: things like "Yes", "Hello", "Ouch"; things like "tra-la-la" and "rickety-tickety-tin" have no semantic content either; I wonder where "blah blah blah" and "la dee da" belong.One interesting chapter in Jackendoff's book is about a possible evolutionary history of language. He thinks that a language without syntax is of course not as expressive as true language but more so than no language at all. There has been a study of the speech of migrant workers who have not had formal instruction in the language of their host countries. It has stripped-down syntax and morphology, the word order is Agent First, Focus Last, and modifiers are adjacent to the word being modified. It is possible that the same was true of "protolanguage". Jackendoff also thinks that English noun compounds like "snowman", "wheelchair" and "garbageman", or even "failed password security question answer attempts limit", are a relic of an earlier stage of the language. The listener knows that a snowman is a sculpture of a man made of snow, a wheelchair is a chair with wheels instead of legs, and a garbageman is a man responsible for hauling away garbage; he does not need syntax to figure it out. I wonder how this squares with Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, where noun compounding is a major part of syntax, and unlike English, the head noun comes first (for example, in Modern Hebrew, "the holiday candlelight" is "or nerot ha-chag", "light-of candles-of the-holiday").

Language

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3.87 rating

Comment 1: This book is 75 years old, yet reading it today, I can't help but feel that this would be a better introductory book for Linguistics students than the ones we use currently.Bloomfield, over the course of a little over 500 pages covers almost every area of language imaginable, and he does so in a clear, understandable style, with a plethora of examples. It's an accessible book for any with an education, yet it is hardly shallow. In every area Bloomfield trears, it is clear he has a thorough knowledge.Of course, the book lacks many of the developments that linguistics has made in since the 1930s, but reading through this work, I'm surprised by how few these new developments actually are.It seems the linguistic 'revolutions' of the 20th century have brought us not that much further in understanding language than Bloomfield was back then.