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What language is : and what it isn't and what it could be
McWhorter, John H.
Adult Nonfiction P321 .M39 2011

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From Publishers' Weekly:

The King's English topples from the throne of linguistic legitimacy in this rollicking tour of human language. Columbia University linguist and bestselling author McWhorter (Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America) surveys a Babel of languages from behemoths like Chinese to isolated, insanely complex Siberian languages, New World creoles, and unfairly disparaged street slangs. His approach is organic rather than prescriptive; he argues that languages are living entities that grow, mutate, and interbreed, creating new words and grammatical forms. The fluidity and incorrigible "disheveledness" of language, he contends, means that no linguistic practice is uniquely correct, least of all persnickety written standards that ignore spoken realities. An insightful chapter on African-American dialect analyzes it as a slightly simplified but equally expressive version of Standard English, shaped by the same pressures that make modern Hebrew a simplified version of the ancient tongue. McWhorter unearths a wealth of colorful linguistic facts (in the New Guinean language Berik, Nice to see you comes out as My gall bladder is really warm today), from which he distills larger principles, couching his erudition in a lucid, supple prose. The result is a fascinating romp through the ornery wonders of language. Illus. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

Which languages are more typical or normal-those offering huge vocabulary, others known for intricate grammar, or those with notable sounds or tones? To answer such questions, McWhorter (linguistics & Western civilization, Columbia Univ.; Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue) boldly offers general readers another taste of language study. This time he serves as tour guide to highlight five traits that language comprises, identified by the letters of the word IDIOM: "Ingrown," "Disheveled," "Intricate," "Oral," and "Mixed." Each trait receives its own chapter, and McWhorter compares and contrasts as his main means of supporting his narrative. He revels in providing side-by-side examples of a particular linguistic feature from different languages, such as Pashto, Archi, Russian, Chinese, and Sinhalese. He presents a wealth of examples of English dialects when considering matters of grammar. These will fascinate, as will the similar development of two imperial languages, English and Persian. VERDICT Though casual readers may lose interest, the distinctive blend of detail, accessible tone, and solid research will appeal to language students of all kinds.-Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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