[ Free books ] The Power of Babel: A Natural History of LanguageAuthor John McWhorter – 91videos.co

There Are Approximately Six Thousand Languages On Earth Today, Each A Descendant Of The Tongue First Spoken By Homo Sapiens Some , Years Ago While Laying Out How Languages Mix And Mutate Over Time, Linguistics Professor John McWhorter Reminds Us Of The Variety Within The Species That Speaks Them, And Argues That, Contrary To Popular Perception, Language Is Not Immutable And Hidebound, But A Living, Dynamic Entity That Adapts Itself To An Ever Changing Human EnvironmentFull Of Humor And Imaginative Insight, The Power Of Babel Draws Its Illustrative Examples From Languages Around The World, Including Pidgins, Creoles, And Nonstandard Dialects Fascinating I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in language and linguistics.Reading this book makes me very glad that I do not live in a world where I would be likely to emigrate from an English speaking country to one where I needed to learn Cree or Fula to get by In some of those languages, children don t achieve the basic level of oral linguistic competence we expect of 5 year olds until the age of around 10, simply because the language is so complicated and requires so many individual cases to be memorised, as opposed to having rules that cover the majority of words Not to mention the verbs common in some societies with a clear social hierarchy such as Japan and Korea, where you can t accurately use the same verb to talk about eating something with a peer as for eating with a superior or inferior of various levels Interestingly, the caste system of India doesn t appear to have given rise to the same phenomenon This aspect of grammar tends to be one that immigrant children, or children of immigrants, find very difficult to learn in their ancestral language if they are living in a less rigidly ordered society Some sample nuggets of interesting information The language Jingulu from central Australia only uses three verbs come, go, and do combined with nouns to give equivalents to English verbs e.g do a sleep , go a dive.Fula an incredibly complex West African language has sixteen grammatical genders , including one gender for diminutive versions of things small boy has a different gender to boy and one that translates most accurately as conveying a shitty little version of something.In some languages, such as Ngan gityemerri, it is grammatically obligatory to use prefixes to express how something was done you cannot just say I chopped the wood , you have to say I chopped the wood with an axe In other languages, including many indigenous ian languages, you must specify how you know anything that you state You can t say It s raining that would be like saying I go car in English you must say It s raining, so I hear see feel my friend said. As a graduate student of historical linguistics, I often find myself asked to explain aspects of contemporary language change or the reconstruction of proto languages to interested friends or family Unfortunately, I don t have much of a gift of simplifying the field for average people, and I ve longed for a simple introduction that I could recommend I was very happy to discover John McWhorter s THE POWER OF BABEL A Natural History of Language, which introduces historical linguistics, squashes myths about language change all too common among the public, and shows the wonderful diversity of human tongues all in an easily approachable way McWhorter s book often succeeds, but I was troubled by some errors This review is mainly meant towards fellow professionals also looking for a book they may give to interested acquaintances.McWhorter s book consists of seven chapters and an epilogue The first, The First Language Morphs into Six Thousand New Ones , explains sound change and grammaticalization, the key processes of language evolution, mainly using French and English examples In chapter 2, The Six Thousand Languages Develop into Clusters of Sublanguages , McWhorter introduces the concept of dialects , showing that within any given speech community there is a wealth of variants, mutually intelligible but excitingly diverse Chapter 3, The Thousands of Dialects Mix with One Another discusses lexical borrowing, while Chapter 4, Some Languages Are Crushed to Powder but Rise Again as New Ones is about the most extreme case of language mixing, pidgins and creoles Here the example pidgin is Russenorsk, that curious mix of Russian and Norwegian that don t deserve the obscurity into which it has fallen Chapter 5, The Thousands of Dialects of Thousands of Languages All Developed Far Beyond the Call of Duty is important Here McWhorter explains the seemingly unnecessary features languages may take on, such as grammatical gender and complicated verbal inflections He makes the important point that the shape of a language says nothing about the intelligence of the people who speak it, that a language serves its community perfectly well Chapter 6, Some Languages Get Genetically Altered and Frozen is about the rise of standard languages out of writing The final chapter is the most depressing, for Most of the World s Languages Went Extinct is about language death.An epilogue, Extra, extra The Language of Adam and Eve attempts to debunk the notions that a Proto World can be constructed, which tend to appeal to the general public even though they lack any scientific basis McWhorter devastatingly dismisses the work of e.g Merrit Ruhlen and, in his darker hours, Joseph Greenberg, to the great applause of this reader.Many readers have found fault with two aspects of McWhorter s book The first is the humourous tone he adopted in trying to make the heady details of historical linguistics appealing for those without training He makes reference to a massive amount of sitcoms and comic books, sometimes makes use of McDonald s advertising as an example of international language contact, and likes to phrase things in a clever manner I found this unobjectionable, for McWhorter has a very similar sense of humour to my own However, what is objectionable are the factual errors that pop up in the book Other reviewers have mentioned some, but for the one I found most annoying, I ll throw in McWhorter s claim that Russian has borrowed from Old Church Slavonic, based on Bulgarian Well, Old Church Slavonic was based on the Slavonic dialect of Thessaloniki, outside the Kingdom of Bulgaria and some notable OCS manuscripts have no connection at all to Bulgaria , and further Russian didn t borrow from OCS, but rather from a later language called Church Slavonic I don t see any yers in these borrowed words, do you One wonders if the book was reviewed by other members of the linguistics community before publication, or if the publisher just assumed that with a popular audience it could just throw it out there.THE POWER OF BABEL is, as far as I know, the only book that gently explains concepts of historical linguistics to the laymen, at the same time debunking various myths of language superiority or great Eskimo vocabularies It s worth checking out, in spite of its faults. I have rarely been that delighted and flattered by a book McWorther points out that there is only a fluent and gradual distinction between different languages on the one hand and different dialects on the other hand For instance he proves that the differences between several German dialects are muchsubstantial than those between Russian Ukrainian, Spanish Portuguese or Danish Swedish Norwegian Since I speak at least four German dialects K lsch, Hessian, Platt and Hamburgian in his view I can legally claim to speak at least 5 languages Didn t know I was that smart.Q What is the different between an American British work of non fiction and a European one A For the latter you don t need to know all the current TV shows Have you ever noticed how often Anglo Americans use metaphors and parallels from their daily TV program Who or what the hell is Honeymooners , Dyck van Dyke , The Simpsons East Enders , ER or some guy called Lettermann I don t know and I am sure I don t want to know either First This makes the books less readable for foreigners and later generations But second and worse It s a sign for the Anglo American arrogance and self centered attitude They really think their TV program is shown and watched all over the world No European writer would think that their TV program was known outside their country which is mostly correct, or what s the most successful TV show in a France, b Austria and c Bosnia Herzegowina Thought so The book is most rewarding if you know the basics of French, Latin and or German because McWorther mostly discusses the development of languages and their relationship to the old and current English on the base of these languages Less interesting are his linguistic examples from other, mostly exotic tongues and dialects In my opinion it is not really striking that in Xxotlepolte spoken only in my imagination the plural of q antyiizzofd isn t q antyiizzofd but q antyiizzofd What I liked is his tolerant approach He shows that there is no bad and good English but that it s only kind of coincidence that the codified written English appears as the only right and good English For instance he proves that the prohibition of the double negation You ain t seen nothing yet has nothing to do with logic see page 228 but only with an illogical parallel to Latin He points out that the double negation doesn t necessarily lead to an affirmative, but can also lead to an emphatic negation In this connection I found one of his rare mistakes To prove that double negation also exists in French he explains while the French apparently following the old dictum that Fifty million Frenchmen can t be wrong can declare that Ce qui n est pas clair n est pas fran ais What isn t clear isn t French by actually using an illogical double negative twice Not true This is not a double negation but an algorithm with two negative values like if you don t tidy up your room you are not allowed to watch TV. A good book is thought provoking in such a way that it promotes the reader to extend the author s argument outside the confines of the author s subject John McWhorter s The Power of Babel fits precisely into this definition of a good book McWhorter s main argument is that languages have been in a constant evolutionary flux since the first humans began speaking approximately 150,000 years ago Using the analogy of evolution, McWhorter demonstrates how the diversity of spoken languages have developed, grown, mutated, and cross polinated within each other across the distinct niches of cultural and geographical distribution.Often looked down upon by academic or learned orators, the dialects, pidgins, and creoles that sound low brow are actually the hallmarks of the continuous development of a mutually distinct language Following the analogy of evolution, McWhorter provides a compelling argument that explains how languages become extinct victims through the passage of time these dead unspoken languages are casualties to the global agriculturalization, colonization and commercialization that has been spreading across the globe for the past 10 11,000 years Currently there are approximately 6,000 languages spoken on this planet, however 99% of the worlds population speaks 1 of only 20 languages and the remaining 1% of the global population speaks the remaining 5,980 languages However, asandof the world s rural and undeveloped peoples become encroached upon by humanity s never ending thirst for resources and expansion, the younger generations of rural peoples lose the historical identify of their ancestor s language as they choose to speak the languages of economy, power and survival.In true linguistic style, McWhorter provides a myriad of examples displaying the transitive nature of language to support his theories Some of these examples such as the revelation that the phrase bye to indicate a farewell salutation originated from the phrase God be with you, which morphed to goodbye and then eventually just bye The drawback to the The Power of Babel is that although interesting at times as noted above McWhorter uses far too many examples to drive his point home and I found myself glossing over 95% of the non English examples he uses However, the end effect is informative and this reader was able to appreciate the ideas behind McWhorter s arguments without fretting over the minutiae of the linguistic details.Now, getting back to my opening statement this is a good book because in reading I found myself reflecting on language as identity As a 21st century English centric American I have been spoon fed the subjective philosophy that this country is united through its one language and my own familial lineage prides itself on assimilating towards English as the primary language I have some regrets that I speak not one word of the German that my mother grew up hearing her parents converse with her grandparents, yet the loss of this cultural connection was considered in her family as a necessary sacrifice This story is hardly unique and neither is the seemingly American attitude that a single language is required to unify the people Throughout history every nation has effortlessly struggled to preserve what is the true language of the people but the truth is that there is no true language Language is in constant flux Consider that Portuguese and Spanish, both distinct languages can be considered separate dialects of a much older Latin The dialects of today can become the language of tomorrow and since language is essential in communicating who we are to each other the essence of that communication and the essence of the identity of ourselves is and always has been changing. Read this for class but I really enjoyed it If you re interested in how language developed throughout the world, I highly recommend this book I picked this book up with a very different impression of what it would contain I really was hoping for some sweeping historical tale of language spread and change I have discovered that it actually takes the reader through an exploration of why and how languages change This is helpful as well, and once I adjusted my expectations I found it interesting and informative A lot of this is stuff I heard in college linguistics classes, though a good review, and told in an engaging way It also has some great and varied examples and an interesting exploration of creoles yes, plural of which I was basically ignorant that is the focus of one chapter and then pops up in smatterings of analysis elsewhere The one real issue I have is that, in trying to be sure that everyone is understanding his points about language change, McWhorter goes into long and rather detailed analogies that end up straying far from the central point Many of these are interesting thoughts on culture and cultural change themselves, but often seem rather unrelated and unnecessary to his subject.Some quotes and interesting tidbits Out of all of the words in the Oxford English Dictionary, however, no less than ninety nine percent were taken from other languages The relative few that trace back to Old English itself are also sixty two percent of the words most used Therefore authentically English roots, such as and, but, father, love, fight, to, will, should, not, and from, are central to speaking English Yet the vast majority of our vocabulary originated in foreign languages, including not merely the obvious Latinate items like adjacent and expedite, but common, mundane forms not processed by us as continental in the slightest 95 so, I knew it was a lot, but that much Wow and speaking of linguistic importing A n English that had developed without these lexical invasions would be incomprehensible and peculiar to us The Beautiful People would be Sc ene L ode rather than the French words we use today conscience would be inwit love this one knowledge within a succession would be anftergengness, an aftergoing There is something comforting in the idea of our having words like inwit andftergengness as English speakers, we have gotten used to a great many of our compound words being essentially opaque, such that we have to learn them by rote, but wouldn t it be nice if most of our big words made at least some immediate sense to us because they were composed of roots drawn from the ordinary level of the language 96 I think inwit is my favorite do you think we could bring it into use intentionally Or as my linguistics prof often mourned, even if adopted, is it fated, like so many English base words, to be relegated to the scorned portion of the English language For help in typing letters linguistic symbols not available on the usual keyboard, go here or here It s been a little too long since I read this to write a detailed review, but on the whole I found it readable and interesting At times it began to feel belaboured in terms of the examples given and the detail gone into, though of course, I ve also read various other books about linguistics and so I had some grounding in what I was reading already For the most part, McWhorter avoids being prescriptive about language and tracks change in language as how language works which you d expect, or hope for at least, in a linguist, but it isn t always the case.There s some interesting stuff particularly on creoles and pidgins, which somewhat debunks the idea that a pidgin becomes a creole through children speaking it, etc Not that there s no truth to it, but McWhorter complicates the picture a little.Reviewed for The Bibliophibian. McWhorter has written a comprehensible, entrancing overview of how language has developed, changed, morphed and been reinvented millions of times in human history.Thanks to MrWhorter, I now know that what I speak and write isn t just English I speak a dialect of Sydney English circa 2000 What McWhorter achieves here is a fascinating journey through many, many languages or regional dialects as McWhorter would have it that span across the globe and time McWhorter is funny Despite being a book aiming to impart knowledge, McWhorter s personality, flare and passion for the subject comes across very strongly.Mostly the book is accessible to the layman Occasionally McWhorter would get ahead of himself and assume a knowledge base of his audience that this little reader didn t have But for the most part, he translates his knowledge very well across the medium of the written word.Which, may I add, he seems to dislike It is the only thing I would challenge him since I m not educated enough in linguistics to argue effectively on anything else He views reading and writing as a barrier to language s natural development With the introduction of the written word, McWhorter claims, English, Chinese, Japanese etc have been developing farslowly than what they would if they were wild and that they ve changed to reflect their written versionsthan their spoken versions Whilst I certainly understand a linguist s frustration with this I think literacy is a valid progression to language Sure, it is a new and compared to the long history of spoken language untried version of language but no less valid than any other dialect of English.Which reminds me that McWhorter s arguments mean that I can no longer deny the friend requests of people who rite liek dis cos thier kool.Maybe he had a point after all This is a great book for non linguists interested in language and how tens of thousands of dialects have developed and transformed throughout human history McWhorter does a great job of making concepts about language palpable for everyday people and clearing up common misconceptions that drive us linguists c.r.a.z.y., such as the myth of primitive languages and the related prescriptive nonsense people constantly try to graft onto language As a linguist, I found several of McWhorter s ideas thought provoking, and reading this book has definitely made me look at language in a new light For example, the concept of there being no languages , but rather a dialectal continuum fraught with languagecest galore everything from Malagasy to Spanglish Our human tendency to often wrongly categorize every phenomenon we encounter does extend to language, a fact that s easy even for us linguists to forget McWhorter definitely blew my mind when he extended this to pidgins and creoles, explaining that even these are a continuum and not discrete categories.However, I found some things really annoying One, he totally overdoes it on the analogies and the stories from his personal experience in my opinion More importantly, he hits the ground running with the assumption of a single, first language 150,000 years ago without mentioning that this is extremely problematic All of the sudden some group just busted out a full fledged language without anything significant coming before it The reality was undoubtedly a lotcomplex than we are ever going to find out, and having that assumption as an unquestioned basis for this book is ridiculous It follows that the hypothesis of creoles being structurally closer to the first language is rather laughable So don t speculate without acknowledging the incredible problematic nature of the entire discussion in the first place.