Both fundamentals and peculiarities of language are introduced in this light-handed survey.
There are many facets to the subject, and Isabella manages to hit on a good handful of the more engaging ones. Grammar and syntax, which can be real snoozers, are treated with a measure of humor by mixing up the word order. She tackles the importance of the right vocal equipment and the still-curious role of genetics. But it is when she starts in on words, languages and language families that things really start to get fascinating: There are almost 7,000 languages and that “[n]inety percent of written English uses only 7000 words,” just a fraction of those available. Or that a good number of languages do not have a word for the color blue. It is one of the less important colors when it comes to survival, evidently. Go figure. She covers language extinction without getting too down at the mouth, and she has some fun with the dreaded legalese—“res ipsa loquitor”—as well as the creation of new words, from “kidnapping” to “bargainous.” Isabella’s writing doesn’t rush matters; she explains thoroughly but not tediously. On the other hand, Boake’s artwork—with its taxidermist’s eyes and hyperbuffed coloring—feels like it is trying too hard to be hip.
An encouraging primer that ought to spark interest for further study. (Nonfiction. 8-12)