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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

What Language Is: And What It Isn't and What It Could Be

What Language Is: And What it Isn't and What it Could Be - John H. McWhorter Insightful, surprising and humorous, John McWhorter’s latest book is a tour of human languages through time and around the world. He presents an almost biological view of language as a living, evolving organism, and does great job illustrating how languages proliferate, transform, and disperse, with fascinating examples of everyday speech from native tongues of the past and present. If you are not familiar with his ideas this book may turn your unexamined assumptions about language upside down. For instance, he has an expanded view of what constitutes a “real” language, including speech commonly considered defective or improper even by the people using it, and he explains why a language is not primitive or lacking in clarity just because it does not have a written version. Most of the languages of the world are unwritten and it’s actually the unwritten languages that tend to be especially complex, with intricate, hard to learn grammars and lots of micro-specific qualifiers, noun cases, genders and verb tenses. In contrast, some of our most familiar modern languages, Persian, Swahili, Mandarin and English, have been drastically simplified-- dumbed-down and streamlined though perfectly functional--because they long ago had to be learned by legions of adults who had already outgrown the childhood knack of language acquisition (for English these adults were the Vikings).Among the corollaries to the idea that languages evolve like living creatures is that it is natural to expect that languages will change and silly to try to prevent it. The form of Modern English cherished and defended by language purists today developed from Old English through hundreds of “mistakes”. Other topics covered in McWhorter’s book are why it’s natural for language to be filled with all kinds of illogical constructions that you just have to know, why Black English is more like nonstandard dialects of Great Britain than any African language, why the Navaho language could be used as an unbreakable code during WWII, and how languages can be used like DNA to track human migration. Note--That Being Said seems to be the working title, but I believe the book will be published in August with the title What Language Is: And What it Isn't and What It Could Be