A deft, spirited exploration of the connection of language to a nation’s identity and culture.



Multilingual Dutch journalist and linguist Dorren (Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, 2015, etc.) proves to be a genial, fascinating guide to the modes, manners, and curiosities of the most-spoken languages in the world.

Among an estimated 6,000 languages in existence, 20 are spoken by half the world’s population. From Vietnamese (85 million speakers) to English (1.5 billion speakers), the author investigates cultural, historical, and political influences that shaped the language, beginning with a succinct overview of the language’s significant traits: writing system, family (Austronesian, Indo-European, etc.), grammar, and sounds. He also offers a sampling of words borrowed from other languages and those exported to English: lilac, from Turkish; safari, from Swahili; and eight pages of the plethora of English words derived from Arabic. Among the 20 selections are several that reveal deep-seated social divides. Japanese (130 million speakers), which has no grammatical gender, requires women to speak in a distinctive “genderlect”: using slightly longer versions of words to make them sound polite and using different pronouns from men. Those differences, dating as far back as 794, have been abating over the past 25 years, Dorren writes, with women in films, theater, and on TV using speech that has “a much more masculine character than before.” Javanese (95 million speakers) has “an exceptionally extensive formality system” in which every word has a synonym that reflects and reinforces Java’s social hierarchy. That language is becoming endangered, with Malay (275 million speakers) having become the official language after Indonesia’s independence in the late 1940s, uniting a population spread across nearly 1,000 islands, speaking over 700 different languages. Punjabi (125 million speakers), like Vietnamese, Hmong, Swedish, and Mandarin, is a tonal language, in which the meaning of the same word changes depending on the tone in which it is spoken. In conveying unfamiliar sounds, Dorren uses English spelling conventions but helpfully directs readers to his website, languagewriter.com, where sound files are available.

A deft, spirited exploration of the connection of language to a nation’s identity and culture.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2879-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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