Next book



An at-times quite challenging but agile and lively introduction to language.

The beauty and intrigue of language.

Shariatmadari, a linguist and Guardian editor, is anxious to remove linguistics from its ivory-tower encampment and make it understandable for general readers. He cuts “through the fallacies and folklore that cloud our understanding” of this social science and provides some entertainment along the way. The author begins with the age-old myth that “language is going to the dogs.” On the contrary, language is “constantly evolving….It’s the speed of change, within our own short lives, that creates the illusion of decline.” A history of the word “toilet” helps Shariatmadari shatter the myth that the origin of a word, its etymology, is a guide to its true meaning. How a word sounds when spoken, the “very fount of our self-expression,” is largely unconscious. The shapes of our vowels and consonants, as well as accents, can change “whether you know it or not.” Can animals speak? Meet Alex, an African grey parrot that could respond to complicated questions and even create a metaphorical compound. He said “rock corn” to describe dried corn. Using a specially designed board of symbols, Kanzi, a bonobo, can respond to around 3,000 words. The author also delves into where dialects come from, how to decide where a language begins and ends, and African American Vernacular English. AAVE has been branded slang or ghetto language, but using it “to help students acquire standard English actually speeds up that process.” Are some languages better than others? Korean is held up by some as a “superior” language while German is a “time-honoured whipping boy.” Mandarin is “slow but dense, Spanish quick but light.” Shariatmadari enters into the fray over the noted linguist Noam Chomsky’s controversial belief that language is instinctual. He votes no. Inquiring minds curious about epenthesis backronyms and heteronymy will find answers here.

An at-times quite challenging but agile and lively introduction to language.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00425-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

Next book


This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

Next book



An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

Close Quickview