Comprehensive report by veteran science writer Davis (Mapping the Code, 1990, etc.) on the glories and mysteries of language. Evidence that animals can talk is, Davis says, ``scant at best'': Language remains a distinctively human trait and perhaps our crowning achievement, and it may play a key role in the creation of the sense of an ``I,'' by which we know ourselves and the world. According to Davis, language is at least 100,000 years old, although its origins remain misty. We do know that all extant languages are equally complex (no so-called ``primitive'' language exists) and that all languages evolve—a process for which Davis uses English (the ``single most important spoken and written language'') as a fascinating case history, tracing how ``dramatic changes in vowel pronunciation'' turned Chaucer's English into the language spoken today. This sort of study arises from the blossoming of linguistics, which Davis traces from its origins in ancient Greece and India through the breakthrough work, in the 18th century, of Sir William Jones (who first noticed that Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin are related) to the transformational grammar of Noam Chomsky, who perceives innate language structures in the mind. But minds require brains, and Davis explains in great detail how the brain stores and processes information, as well as how it produces language. It turns out that language abilities are spread throughout our gray matter and that, in multilingual people, different areas of the brain handle different languages. The stages of language acquisition in infants are also covered—from crying to gurgling to babbling to real talking (which begins at about one year). Seven appendices offer a bounty of language miscellany, from a pronunciation guide for phonetic symbols to a chart of Indo-European tongues. A first-rate overview of language from A to Z, and then some.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-55972-206-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Birch Lane Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1993

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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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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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