Certain Africans spend as much time sitting around analyzing speech performance as Oxbridge dons; the Marx Brothers divided...

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WORD PLAY: What Happens When People Talk

Certain Africans spend as much time sitting around analyzing speech performance as Oxbridge dons; the Marx Brothers divided among themselves several kind of profound verbal play; languages without ""sexist"" categories are found in the most woman-degrading places; it was the clash of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon that produced such phrases as ""lord and master,"" ""ways and means,"" ""law and order"" -- lore in plenty is the best thing about this book by the author of Man's Rise to Civilization As Shown by the Indians of North America (1968) and Face of North America 1963 in which he deals with general questions in a lively, running, not to say glib survey of differences and samenesses of language and language behavior. The effect of situation, status, sex, etc. on the way one talks; the subspecies of verbal jokes and duels and argot; divers languages' diverse categorizations of livestock, colors, relatives. . . it's a scrapbook of topics commonly given dreary treatment. Farb merely touches on general theories about language, bypassing such depths as Piaget, and making a mere uncritical genuflection to Chomsky's idea that our power to grasp basic linguistic relations and use them creatively is somehow separate from our overall conceptual powers. Farb also takes brief, more interesting stabs at Benjamin Whorf's belief that language (not society as a whole) constricts our interpretations of reality.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1973

ISBN: 0679734082

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1973