ON LANGUAGE

DESCENT FROM THE TOWER OF BABEL

In this challenging, provocative, and original multi- disciplinary study, Mengham (English/Cambridge) goes beyond linguistics, semantics, and philology, to consider language in the evolution of social life, from its mystical role in religion to its historical one in culture and its material one in economics. Mengham starts with an insightful analysis of the symbolism of Babel, the diversity and variety of languages, the special qualities of literary and even schizophrenic language, concluding that Babel represented a fortunate fall indeed. The shadow of Babel, representing primitive and unified language, hovers over the entire book. Mengham's primary interest is written language: its origins, variety, divergence from spoken language, spiritual and political significance, and its utility in preserving culture, carrying ideology, and extending power into alien cultures. He observes, for example, how the power of Paul's universal Greek helped Christianity overcome the Essenes, who used the dying Hebrew and Aramaic in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He offers grammars, lexicons, and dictionaries as expressions of universal authority in language, overcome by the differentiated language of class, nationality, and gender that arose during the age of revolutions in the 19th century. Among the most interesting and original observations are the parallels he draws between the history of language and the history of coinage; they occasion a chapter on the language of distribution, which parallels an earlier chapter on the distribution of language. His conclusion points up the dangers presented by the standardization of language in commercials and by the various processes of mechanization such as computers, an impoverishment of language resembling the form before Babel. With rich allusions to myth, superstition, religion, anthropology, a challenging and rewarding book, well worth the stretch it requires.

Pub Date: April 4, 1994

ISBN: 0-316-56671-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1994

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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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