An insightful, accessible examination of the way in which day-to-day speech is tangled in a complicated web of history,...

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YOU ARE WHAT YOU SPEAK

GRAMMAR GROUCHES, LANGUAGE LAWS, AND THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY

A wide-ranging study of language, including the various political dimensions involved in how and why certain languages gain prestige while others become extinct.

How have industrialization and nationalism shaped language variation worldwide? Is the writing system a natural outgrowth of speech, or can it simply be changed by government edict? Is there really one correct way of speaking English? Is the French language being threatened? Are Chinese characters really based on pictographs? These are just a handful of the many intriguing questions, issues and “linguistic myths” that Economist contributor Greene investigates in this fascinating glimpse at the global politics of language variation. Essentially, the book is a course in sociolinguistics and modern international language politics for the layperson. The author, who speaks nine languages, begins by dispelling a variety of language myths that are pervasive and, to the chagrin of many linguists, seemingly unshakeable—that some languages are more primitive than others, that the Qur’an cannot be translated from Arabic, or that the Maori of New Zealand have 35 words for dung. Greene also exposes grammar sticklers—people who are obsessively determined to “purify” language and who are nostalgic for a linguistic utopia that never existed—for the persnickety and curmudgeonly group they really are. The author blends personal narrative, reportage and humor with linguistic analysis, historical research and political punditry, and he surveys some of the most significant issues concerning language today, including the ethnocentrism involved in some English-only activism in America, as well as the draconian—and largely unsuccessful—measures of the French Academy to keep French free of English words. Greene correctly demonstrates that language change, language variety and cross-language borrowing are “highly regular” and, in fact, part of the natural evolution of all languages.

An insightful, accessible examination of the way in which day-to-day speech is tangled in a complicated web of history, politics, race, economics and power.

Pub Date: March 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-553-80787-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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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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