Ostler does not assume specialist knowledge, but he does assume that his readers share his gargantuan and voluptuary...

THE LAST LINGUA FRANCA

ENGLISH UNTIL THE RETURN OF BABEL

A bracing history of lingua francas and their dynamic variation, with a focus on the perfect wave that International English is riding—toward a wipeout, predicts Foundation for Endangered Languages founder Ostler (Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin, 2007, etc.).

Will English be “the last lingua franca,” exempt from the processes of “ruin, relegation, and resignation” that wasted such precursors as Akkadian, Aramaic, Greek, Persian, Sanskrit and Latin? David Crystal (English as a Global Language) and David Graddol (The Future of English) thought so, and Ostler agrees—but with a subversive twist. English’s days as the international bridge language for business, diplomacy, science, technology, education and entertainment are numbered, but its hegemonic place won’t be taken by another language, he writes. The same trend of technological innovation that spurred the triumphal expansion of English will unseat it. Continuing advances in machine translation and real-time speech-to-speech translation between any two languages will end the world’s need for one privileged interlingual language. In the ensuing egalitarian era of Babel, English will shrink back to its mother-tongue hinterland, freeing billions from ESL drudgery. Techno-utopian speculations aside, most of the matter in this book was prefigured in Ostler’s Empires of the Word (2005), which ranged across all imperial languages, both lingua francas and not (like Egyptian and Chinese). Sections on the meteoric rise and coming flame-out of International English bracket a middle section drilling down into past lingua francas, with two meaty and occasionally pedantic chapters dedicated to Persian. The author employs the same exuberantly comparative approach as Empires and recycles, sometimes verbatim, many of its arguments, parallels, anecdotes and paleographic examples. Ostler reproduces the latter in their original scripts, together with transliterations and translations. His aim is not pedantic but to pique general readers’ code-cracking interest.

Ostler does not assume specialist knowledge, but he does assume that his readers share his gargantuan and voluptuary appetite for words, languages and history.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1771-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

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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