website statistics Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages - PDF Books Online
Hot Best Seller

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages

Availability: Ready to download

In Spoken Here, Mark Abley takes us on a world tour from the Arctic Circle to Oklahoma to Australia in a fervent quest to document some of the world's most endangered languages. His mission is urgent: Of the six thousand languages spoken in the world today, only six hundred may survive into the next century. Abley visits the exotic and frequently remote locales that are ho In Spoken Here, Mark Abley takes us on a world tour from the Arctic Circle to Oklahoma to Australia in a fervent quest to document some of the world's most endangered languages. His mission is urgent: Of the six thousand languages spoken in the world today, only six hundred may survive into the next century. Abley visits the exotic and frequently remote locales that are home to fading languages and constructs engaging and entertaining portraits of some of the last living speakers of these tongues. Throughout this exhilarating travelogue, he points out that the same forces that put biological species at risk -- development, globalization, loss of habitat -- are also threatening human languages, and with them, something very basic about their speakers' cultures.


Compare

In Spoken Here, Mark Abley takes us on a world tour from the Arctic Circle to Oklahoma to Australia in a fervent quest to document some of the world's most endangered languages. His mission is urgent: Of the six thousand languages spoken in the world today, only six hundred may survive into the next century. Abley visits the exotic and frequently remote locales that are ho In Spoken Here, Mark Abley takes us on a world tour from the Arctic Circle to Oklahoma to Australia in a fervent quest to document some of the world's most endangered languages. His mission is urgent: Of the six thousand languages spoken in the world today, only six hundred may survive into the next century. Abley visits the exotic and frequently remote locales that are home to fading languages and constructs engaging and entertaining portraits of some of the last living speakers of these tongues. Throughout this exhilarating travelogue, he points out that the same forces that put biological species at risk -- development, globalization, loss of habitat -- are also threatening human languages, and with them, something very basic about their speakers' cultures.

30 review for Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ushan

    A Canadian poet and journalist goes around the world visiting speakers of moribund languages. Aborigines of Northern Australia progressed within a few generations from the Mesolithic to their current lives of crime, welfare dependency, junk food and resultant diabetes, and watching television. Unsurprisingly, young people among them consider American rap music (and the language thereof) to be more relevant to their lives than traditional creation myths (and the languages thereof). Murals depicti A Canadian poet and journalist goes around the world visiting speakers of moribund languages. Aborigines of Northern Australia progressed within a few generations from the Mesolithic to their current lives of crime, welfare dependency, junk food and resultant diabetes, and watching television. Unsurprisingly, young people among them consider American rap music (and the language thereof) to be more relevant to their lives than traditional creation myths (and the languages thereof). Murals depicting idyllic traditional lives are besmirched with graffiti "NO MORE CULTURE FOR US GANGSTA GAMES WE RIDE" and "WE ARE THE JAIL BIRD WESTSIDE GANGSTERS OKAY MOTHER F---ERS". Manx revival enthusiasts force their small children to speak the language they themselves speak poorly, and coin Manx words for diapers and pacifier; at least they don't make them speak Klingon, like this linguist father. A Provençal revival enthusiast defends the language as the true language of Provence, which is threatened not only by French, but also by the Arabic and Berber of immigrants. A Yiddish play about Harry Houdini staged in Montreal had tableaux translating the dialogue into English and French; where the English translation had "G-d", the French one had "Dieu" instead of "D---"; during the intermission, all conversations were in English and French except for a single one in Yiddish. At a lecture by Ruth Wisse, a professor of Yiddish literature at Harvard, a French Canadian man asked her why the Jews do not support the struggles of the Quebecois: without Quebec's notorious language laws, their language could suffer the fate of Yiddish in Anglophone North America. Mark Abley acknowledges that he is a journalist and not a professional linguist, but at least he could have gotten one to proofread his book. It is probably not true that a certain Australian Aboriginal language and its forerunners were spoken "before the foundations of Sumer and Babylon were dug - and before the great myth of Babel first entered anyone's mind" in the area where its last living speakers live. The forerunner of English was spoken at that time too; it probably resembled Sanskrit (the noun has masculine, feminine and neuter genders, singular, dual and plural numbers, and 8 cases) or Hittite (the noun has animate and inanimate genders, singular and plural numbers, and 7 cases), and it was not spoken in England. Why should we assume that the Australian Aboriginal language changed less in 5000 years, and its speakers didn't move? What does it mean to say that among the living languages of Europe, only Basque is older than Welsh? The people of Rome have been speaking some sort of Latin for at least 2700 years; we call different stages of the language by different names (Old Latin, Classical Latin, Vulgar Latin, medieval Italian, modern Italian), but there is an unbroken chain of native speakers going back this far, and a record of the language slowly changing. The people of Crete have been speaking some sort of Greek for at least 3300 years. What makes Basque and Welsh older than Greek and Italian? Recent English borrowings into Russian like "defolt" and "keellyer" no more make the language impure than recent Arabic borrowings into English like "mujahid" and "shahid" make English impure. A language that does not require a dummy subject in sentences like "It rains" does not have to be as exotic as Hopi; in Spanish it is "Llueve". In an Australian Aboriginal language, a certain noun can mean a cycad (a kind of plant), its seeds, a cockroach that lives in its dead fronds, and a man with the cockroach totem, depending on the noun class. This sounds exotic until you consider that in American English, a jet is a stream of fluid, a kind of aircraft engine consisting of a gas turbine emitting a stream of hot gas, an aircraft powered by such engines, and (spelled "Jet") a member of an American football team whose home stadium is frequently overflown by such aircraft, depending on the context (there is an unrelated homonym meaning black coal, and an adjective describing the color of such coal, frequently applied to hair). The words in the Australian Aboriginal language are no more "held and balanced in an intricate web of relationships" than the English words. It is not true that languages "tend to evolve toward simplicity"; Italian indeed has simpler morphology than Latin, which the latter inherited from Proto-Indo-European, but chances are, Proto-Indo-European was a complication of something simpler; the 12 infinitive verb endings of Vedic Sanskrit were probably separate words that merged with the root the way the direct object pronoun merges with the root in the French word "t'adore".

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eileen

    This book does a good job presenting an overview of endangered languages, and draws you in with the stories from real speakers of each language he focuses on. However, its just that...an overview. If you have a general interest in language and linguistics, without a lot of background, read this book and enjoy it. Abley is not a linguist, and he takes the time in the first chapter to "gently remind" linguists they should try to make their work more accessible...well perhaps he should consider tha This book does a good job presenting an overview of endangered languages, and draws you in with the stories from real speakers of each language he focuses on. However, its just that...an overview. If you have a general interest in language and linguistics, without a lot of background, read this book and enjoy it. Abley is not a linguist, and he takes the time in the first chapter to "gently remind" linguists they should try to make their work more accessible...well perhaps he should consider that their work isn't as "accessible" as he'd like because its many times more complex than what he's presenting. He doesn't have to know everything about what he's presenting, but he tends to ether overstate conflicts or gloss over real disagreements. He's occasionally drawn in by common misconceptions about linguistics (including calling Benjamin Whorf an amateur linguist...he may not have had a PhD, but he did field work, published, and lectured at Yale). I enjoyed reading about the languages themselves, but the chapters in between drove me crazy...so if you know things about linguistics, don't read this book unless you're somewhere you can do some frustrated yelling.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    SPOKEN HERE: Travels Among Endangered Languages is a poigant story of journeys on the theme of language diversity undertaken by Mark Abley. His survey includes the loss of indigenous languages in Australia and North America and the dwindling minority languages of Europe. The loss, becoming ever faster, of the world's minority languages is a true tragedy, and Abley is to be commended for his effort. There are many fine points about his work. Unlike the average academic discussion of language diver SPOKEN HERE: Travels Among Endangered Languages is a poigant story of journeys on the theme of language diversity undertaken by Mark Abley. His survey includes the loss of indigenous languages in Australia and North America and the dwindling minority languages of Europe. The loss, becoming ever faster, of the world's minority languages is a true tragedy, and Abley is to be commended for his effort. There are many fine points about his work. Unlike the average academic discussion of language diversity, he shows the reader some of the actual people whose lives are being affected by the loss of their ancestral languages. He shows that language death isn't limited merely to small disadvantaged tribes in the third world, but happens with us here in the West where Occitan, Breton, Welsh, etc. are facing challenges. I was especially happy that he dispels the myth--propagated by the artificial language's movement--that Esperanto exists to promote language diversity by quoting a statement by the iniciator himself, L.L. Zamenhof, that language diversity is bad and Esperanto was meant to destroy it. However, so very much of SPOKEN HERE is objectionable. Abley is not a trained linguist, and he makes mistake after mistake that even the greenest student of linguistics would capture. For example, he dredges up the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the now quaint notion that one's language shapes one's worldview. He makes blanket statements about how all the languages in the world are tending towards simplicity; it may be historically true for the Indo-European languages, but many other world languages, for example Mandarin Chinese, are developing more complex morphology. He also seems to think that some languages can be more "ancient" than others, for he writes that some languages were spoken in Australia when Sumer and Babylon were ascendent. Well, guess what, our language was spoken then too, but it was called Proto-Germanic and English is a natural continuation of it. Languages don't appear ex nihilo, so none can be more ancient than others. Finally, while Abley might not present the old urban myth of Eskimo words for snow, but he gets close enough with his enthusiasm about other languages of people in the developing world. Now, no one is expected to know everything, and Abley could be forgiven for lacking formal training, but he discounts real linguists as just eggheads who use too many "big words" and apparently he had no trained person proofread the work before publication. In some places he insolently puts his own opinions above those of respected scholars, as in a passage where he writes "Chomsky may have made an important contribution, but I think...". As a result of this plethora of urban myths, I cannot really recommend the book. If you are unsettled by the loss of the world's language diversity--and you should be--read LANGUAGE DEATH by David Crystal, a trained linguist who still can related to the average reader with a gentle tone and not too much specialized terminology.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    The only complaint I have about this book is that it isn't longer. Its premise is essentially that a lot of languages are dying out in the modern world. Should we care? And if so, why? Turns out (as you might suspect) we should care. In our rapidly flattening world, this author thoughtfully articulates why we should appreciate its curves. And he does so without having to resort to complicated academic arguments. What I find most fascinating is how many ways a group's vocabulary and grammar can re The only complaint I have about this book is that it isn't longer. Its premise is essentially that a lot of languages are dying out in the modern world. Should we care? And if so, why? Turns out (as you might suspect) we should care. In our rapidly flattening world, this author thoughtfully articulates why we should appreciate its curves. And he does so without having to resort to complicated academic arguments. What I find most fascinating is how many ways a group's vocabulary and grammar can reveal its unique perspective. I learned a lot from this book. And I laughed a lot, too. His examples are great!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tentatively, Convenience

    review of Mark Abley's Spoken Here - Travels Among Threatened Languages by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 16-21, 2017 Skip this, READ THE full-length review: "Unfortunately, no longer spoken here": https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... This is the 2nd bk I've read on this subject. The 1st one was Daniel Nettle & Suzanne Romaine's Vanishing Voices - The Extinction of the World's Languages (You can read my full review of that here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ). I gave Vanishing review of Mark Abley's Spoken Here - Travels Among Threatened Languages by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 16-21, 2017 Skip this, READ THE full-length review: "Unfortunately, no longer spoken here": https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... This is the 2nd bk I've read on this subject. The 1st one was Daniel Nettle & Suzanne Romaine's Vanishing Voices - The Extinction of the World's Languages (You can read my full review of that here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ). I gave Vanishing Voices a 5 star review, the maximum here, but sd that it deserved an "11". At 1st, while I was reading this one, I was thinking it doesn't quite deserve as high praise but, WTF, I'm still giving it a "5" &, yes, it's a fantastic, important bk. Kudos to the author, he did a magnificent job. I'm deeply impressed. I hope hope hope hope hope more people read this bk & others like it. Really. Please. I've been researching endangered languages for an 'opera' that I'm (d) composing called Endangered Languages, Endangered Cultures, Endangered Ideas & I'll never even begin to do justice to the subject - esp considering that the opera is so experimental that its relevance to the subject at hand might not even be obvious to appreciators of such things. No matter. That's why I read this bk. This review will be excerpted from for the libretto. "A minority language always depends on popular will. It dies as its voices fade in the midst of PalmPilots, cell phones, and Walkmans. It dies as its remaining speakers find they have less and less to talk about. "The price of that loss is beyond estimation. We have grown used to giving cultural artifacts a dollar figure: so many thousand for a Yeats manuscript, so many million for a Ming porcelain. But a language is more than any artifact. You can't slap a price tag on a language, no matter how small and obscure, any more than you can pin down the financial value of an ivory-billed woodpecker or a bill of rights. Mati Ke lacks the ever burgeoning scientific terminology of English and Japanese, nor does it enjoy a written language. But like all other human languages, it is a full and rich expression of a way of life, a culture, an identity. Whether or not it ever makes sense to use the term "primitive society," the phrase "primitive language" is an absurdity." - pp 4-5 A previous owner of this bk had pencilled in the margins next to the above-quoted: "rather poetic, don't you think?". I've been saying for a long time, maybe decades, that I think that endangered languages are being pushed out by technical ones & that the endangered languages are more poetic. These days I think it's more accurate to say that the endangered ones are more metaphorically sensitive to the environment in wch they're spoken. "But a CD-ROM of an extinct language bears an uneasy resemblance to a stuffed dodo." - p 6 I found that a particularly interesting comparison insofar as there is no such thing as a "stuffed dodo", they're all composites made from other bird parts & artistry, no dodo was ever preserved. Did Abley know this when he wrote that? B/c, if he did, that makes the comparison even more apt. "In Oklahoma, for example, I spent some time among the few remaining speakers of the Yuchi language. Yuchi is what linguists call an isolate: it bears a clear relation to no other living tongue. I wanted to discover what knowledge and understanding may die with Yuchi if it does indeed disappear." - pp 7-8 Exactly. As I later agree w/ the author as I read deeper in this bk, I prefer the Whorfian position that each language helps produce a distinct world-view - as opposed to a Chomskian position that no language can be that distinct from another b/c of inherent shared traits between all languages. "Chomsky and his followers assert that all human languages depend on a generative grammar (or GG) that underlies the bewildering twists and wriggles words make on the surface of speech." [..] "Emphasizing the shared properties intrinsic to every language, they refuse to see any merit in the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis," which influenced many scholars from the 1930s through the 1950s. As set out by Benjamin Lee Whorf (a brilliant amateur linguist, whose lack of a doctorate has often been held against him) and his great mentor Edward Sapir, the hypothesis suggests that the language a person speaks determines the way that person thinks." - pp 45-46 Whorf's key point is that conceptual content can't always be easily and exactly interchanged among languages: what is said and how it is said interact in complex ways." - p 47 ""How," Devitt and Sterelny ask, "Could anything a person does to his experience — how could any of his modes of representation — affect stones, trees, cats and stars?"" - pp 47-48 The representation of cats as companions rather than as food might affect them, eh?! "Let's return to the extraordinarily limited range of nouns by which Devitt and Sterelny symbolize "the world." They single out stones, trees, cats, and stars as emblematic of items that no mode of human representation can possibly affect, Is this as accurate as it is obvious? When you look at the words more closely, the self-evident truth of the proposition begins to blur. "To begin with, there's a little ambiguity in their meaning. Our collective experience has a direct impact on stars like Madonna, cats like Wynton Marsalis, and Stones like Mick Jagger. But a broader, subtler answer is this: we signal our attitude to things in the world — cats, for example — by the way we talk about them. "The cat that spent the night in the rain" may have less of a claim on our affections than "the cat who spent the night in the rain." "Who is that cat in your arms?" suggests something different from "What is that cat in your arms?" (not to mention what is that cat doing in your arms?"). Language implies feeling. Feeling, one way or another, inspires action. "Leave the confines of English behind, and the waters muddy even further. With the aid of the Concise Oxford Turkish Dictionary, I decided to see how those four nouns are expressed in a language far removed from the Indo-European family to which English belongs. Turkish is the largest member of the Altaic family; thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands, have gone by since our remote ancestors (somewhere in central Asia, presumably) spoke the same words. In Turkish, I discovered, "cat" is kedi. But kedi-balugi, far from being a "catfish" as the literally translated compound says, is what we call a "lesser spotted dogfish." A kedi, unlike a cat, is involved in phrases meaning "to go bankrupt," "to cause bad blood," and "to look at with intense longing." A "stone" is a tas, most of the time. But a stone in the kidneys or gallbladder is kum hastaligi — in which case it indisputably affects your personal experience. And a çekirdek is also a stone, one you might unearth in a plum or an olive. Still, a Turkish stone would generally be called a tas. But a tas, I regret to say, is not always a stone. Sometimes it's what we call a chess piece. At other moments it's an allusion or an innuendo. "Are stars — the heavenly variety, I mean — any simpler? Alas, no. A Turkish star can be a yildiz or a baht, and both are tied up in human lives. Baht can signify "good luck" or "destiny." Yildiz also implies deestiny, but it has the extra sense of "pole star" or "north." Finally we arrive at trees. There are several Turkish options. But the likeliest word, listed first on the page, is agaç. Troublee is, agaç also means "wood" or "timber." And surely the fate of trees can be profoundly affected by whether we think of them — in the mind's eye, in the same breath, always — as timber. (Consider the difference between the phrases "I like cows" and "I like beef.") English enforces a distinction between the living organism of a tree and the useful material that organism provides. Turkish does not. "Perhaps, then, the inexhaustible, inviting world does show evidence of being constructed, to a significant degree, out of our linguistic experience." - pp 49-50 Ordinarily, I wdn't quote so much at one time. However, I think that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a deeply significant one that's worth defending at length. Neither Chomsky nor Sapir-Whorf is in favor of seeing languages & their speakers become extinct - but when one is of the opinion that entire world-views are at stake that seems to dramatically up the ante to me. "Above all, I wanted to test my own hunch that the looming extinction of so many languages marks a decisive moment in human history — a turning away from vocal diversity in favor of what optimists see as a global soul and others as a soulless monoculture." - p 8 Count me as among the latter. Even among my younger anarchist friends I see a more or less unquestioning preference for Hollywood spectacles & their imitations over anything created from a more independent mass-media-questioning position. B/c of this monoculture I feel like the information in my head is of little or no interest to almost anyone anymore. Why do they 'need' it? There's always the latest app, the latest tv show, the latest same-old same-old sports spectacle. & I'm in a place that 'benefits' from the spoils of this monoculture. Yuk. "What will we lose if our abundance of languages shrinks to a fraction of what now survives? A speaker of English or Chinese might answer differently from a speaker of Mati Ke. The simplest response, perhaps, is this: we will lose languages that are astonishingly unlike any widespread tongue. Languages employ sounds and organize the mental world in ways that are natural to their speakers but can seem downright weird to other people. Nootka, one of the languages of Vancouver Island, is a case in point. As the linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf once noted, to express the idea "He invites people to a feast" Nootka requires but a single word: tl'imshya'isita'itlma. Literally, "Boiling result eating those go to get somebody." Not quite so literally, "He, or somebody, goes to get eaters of cooked food." The Nootka would alter their speech — adding hissing noises or extra consonants for effect — when they were talking to or about children, fat people, short people, left-handed people, circumcised males, lame and hunchbacked people, greedy people (also ravens), and people with eye defects." - pp 8-9 Now, maybe, just maybe, somebody was pulling somebody's leg here. If they were, they had a great sense of humor. Is there just one word in English to express inviting people to dinner? Not that I know of. Maybe the Nootka-speaking culture is more sociable in that way. That's important. "Guugu Yimidhirr, the source of "kangaroo," may still have a dozen or two speakers. But the languages that first told of koalas and kookaburras are no more." - p 15 What if linguists were able to take a closer look at the etymologies of such words? There might be stories there giving substantial insight. I think of things like: "The Trukese name for the night of the full moon is bonung aro, meaning "night of laying eggs." - p 74 (Vanishing Voices) In other words, a name that might seem fanciful or mystical might actually refer to specific biological knowledge. The thing is, I'm one of those people who prefers that all knowledge be preserved but that's a pretty tall order, eh? It's probably too much for even the collective human mind to endure. Hence, some knowledge is lost, over & over, & human 'progress' is dubious. Spoken Here was published in 2003. In it, Abley mentions that the "latest edition of Ethnologue, a directory of the world's languages, lists 417 as "nearly extinct." Of these, 138 are in Australia: a third of the total." (p 16) I have the 15th edition of the Ethnologue (2005), having been exposed to it by reading Vanishing Voices, & I can happily attest that it's what cliché language might call an 'invaluable resource'. What I didn't glean from reading Vanishing Voices is that the Ethnologue is a religious product: "The Derbyshires' work in Brazil had been paid for by a controversial organization called SIL International — formerly the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Based in Dallas, Texas, SIL is among the largest employer of linguists in the field — linguists, that is, who actually study the world's languages rather than engaging in arcane analysis of the structural underpinnings of speech. Every few years SIL publishes an updated version of Ethnologue, an invaluable catalogue of each of the world's languages along with its dialects, its family relationships, an estimate of its speakers' numbers, and the principle countries where they live. The institute has long done terrific work. Yet its motives are open to question. SIL is part of the Wycliffe Bible network — a group of Protestant missionary societies, drawing their inspiration from a verse in Matthew and a few more in Revelation: "After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice . . ." Christian praise must be uttered in every human language — or so goes one interpretation of the text — for only then can the world come to an end. "You could say, in brief, that SIL is in the business of saving languages so that they will all disappear." - pp 237-238 "For a critical view of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (to use its old name), see David Stoll's Fishers of Men or Founders of Empire? The Wycliffe Bible Translators in Latin America (London: Zed Press and Cultural Survivial, 1982). SIL's own Web site gives a much more secular view of the organization than does www.wycliffe.org. In July 2002 the Wycliffe site said: "Pray for the SIL training sessions going on in North Dakota and Oregon. Pray the God will enable each student to learn the basics of linguistic analysis. Pray too that God will burden the students' hearts for Bible translation."" - p 295 Oh, well, at least there're some protestants out there as fanatical as the Jesuits. Having been raised in a Christinane household, the woman who introduced my mom & stepdad was a missionary. I remember her telling a story once about walking some steps in Brazil when she came across some sort of native religious ceremony, perhaps the sacrifice of a chicken (why do chickens always get such a bad deal?). The missionary was horrified b/c, after all, Christians had made sure such religions were made illegal. How dare the people of the country she & her ilk were invading practice their own religion?! "The location of a language, from an Aboriginal perspective, was decided in the Dreamtime. But the location of Wadeye — now the largest Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory — was selected by Father Richard Docherty, a missionary who founded the place in the 1930s and christened it Port Keats." [..] "Murrinh-Patha became a lingua franca." - p 18 "The recurrent isolation has helped keep Murrinh-Patha strong. For this is one of the very few traditional languages in Australia whose speakers have increased in number over the past generation. Lately it has spread beyond Wadeye to neighboring areas. "Simplicity is not a reason for the language's success. Some of its complexities seem mind-numbing — unless you're willing to take the plunge and call them mind-expanding. In its pronoun system, where English slices the world into singular and plural, Murrinh-Patha has four categories: singular, dual (with forms that vary for two males, two females, and siblings), paucal (meaning three to about fifteen people, and again using different terms for males, females, and siblings), and plural (more than fifteen people). Each of these categories, moreover, has separate words for the first person ("we two males," for example), the second person ("you two males"), and the third person ("those two males"). "How are you?" we say in English, no matter how many people we're addressing and who they happen to be. Murrinh-Patha is a lot more precise. For "you," it compels a choice among nhinhi, nankunitha, nankungitha, nanku, nankuneme, nankungime, and nanki." - pp 18-19 & that's the lingua franca! I wonder if people for whom Murrinh-Patha is a 2nd language (or 3rd, etc) frequently make mistakes like referring to a hetero-couple as '2 sisters'. I can imagine a plethora of giggle-potential. I like imagining whole long stories just based around differentiating. & what about more-than-15 being plural? Why 15? Is 15 a traditional family gathering & most groupings beyond that involving more than family? Let's say 4 grandparents, 2 parents, 2 uncles, 2 aunts, 3 of the 3rd generation & 2 babies? At any rate, there must be a perceived need for such specificity that most English-speakers don't feel. That, in itself, is interesting. But then, alas, we get back to human nature at its most depressing, or, at least, the 'human nature' of conquering peoples. ""Yabbering" and "jabbering" are interesting words. They show up all over the English-speaking world whenever a speaker feels like sneering at animals or a minority people. Look up "jabber" in the Oxford English Dictionary, and you'll find quotations in which the term applies to monkeys, Flemish servants, seabirds, and Jews. It often betrays contempt, the dictionary observes, for "the speaking of a language which is unintelligible to the hearer."" - p 21 Bringing us back to such derogatory terms as "subhuman" & "savage". Ignorance covers its tracks by degrading what it's ignorant about - if someone doesn't speak a language then that language isn't worth speaking, it's just 'jabber'. Yuk. "many speakers of Yolngu and other Aboriginal languages have become convinced of the existence of a "secret English" — a version of English that has special, even sacred force." [..] "This is a fantasy, of course. Or is it? Words do have power. Across Australia, many of the worst massacres of Aborigines took place after books and magazines had appeared calling them "a species . . . of tailless monkey," "the lowest race of savages in the known world," - p 41 &, indeed, this is very important to understand: mass media spreads certain perceptions, it defines people & ideas for the masses, it propagandizes for or against - & this can have very serious consequences. Take, eg, Donald Trump's Press Secretary Sean Spicer's recent statement that Adolph Hitler, who fatally gassed millions of citizens of his own country & of the countries that Germany had invaded, hadn't used chemical weapons against his own people: "You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical; weapons." ( https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2... ) Regardless of whether Spicer is really as much of an imbecile as he seems, the effect of his statement is to reinforce holocaust denial versions of history. Such denial is a way of covering over genocide & paving the way for a 'good nazi' myth that appeals to Trump's nazi & white supremacist supporters. BEWARE.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Friederike Knabe

    Have you ever wondered how you would react if *your* language was threatened with extinction? Would you miss it at all? What more would you lose than words and phrases? Mark Abley tracked the world for 10 years to pursue these and related questions. His discoveries make for an intriguing read spiked with some learning about local tongues like Boro, Yuchi, Provençal or Manx. Language is used to express the worldview of its speakers, bur does it also shape and influence it? Are the connotations tha Have you ever wondered how you would react if *your* language was threatened with extinction? Would you miss it at all? What more would you lose than words and phrases? Mark Abley tracked the world for 10 years to pursue these and related questions. His discoveries make for an intriguing read spiked with some learning about local tongues like Boro, Yuchi, Provençal or Manx. Language is used to express the worldview of its speakers, bur does it also shape and influence it? Are the connotations that a word's meaning carries consciously passed on? Many traditional languages have in common that they are more complicated in their grammar than modern ones. Some prescribe human kinships in great detail and maintain a different vocabulary for each gender to use. Does these aspects have a bearing on the human interrelationships? The author pursues the answers from the elders, language teachers and linguistic experts. Of particular interest to him are languages that structure sentences around verbs rather than nouns, as we are used to. Placing the "action" in the centre of a phrase results in a different perspective on life, he argues, making it more inclusive of the surroundings and reducing the primary role of the self. The Boro language, spoken in northern India, has one-verb expressions that require full sentences when translated into English: "gagrom", for example, means "to search for a thing below the water by trampling" or "mokhrob" - to express anger by a sidelong glance. Mohawk must be one of the most complex languages in its use of verbs. In addition to describing the action "a verb must indicate the agent, recipient and the time of the action". There are other elements to consider too, such as the relationships to be expressed or whether it is one-time or habitual; all these components are represented in a series of pre- and suffixes. Another aspect of the diversity of language that captivates the author, is the naming of objects, like the three or more distinct names for "blue-tongue lizard" in Wangkajunga, an Australian Aborigine language. Nobody seems to knows how they differ from each other. Abley discusses with a Mohawk elder the meaning of the central concepts of Iroquois law: peace, power and righteousness. All three have complex connotations that for non-speakers require detailed explanations. The last concept, for example, can also mean "beautiful" or "good" as well as "righteousness". This is but one example that underscores a unique worldview of its speakers that is influenced by language. In turn, the speakers' perspective continues to influence the evolving language. Some languages are flexible and adjust, developing terms reflecting modern life. Still, others are helpless in this regard and are overrun by the majority language or the universal language, English, the "Walmart" of communication. While Abley discusses certain linguistic aspects of the selected languages in some detail, Spoken Here is primarily a human interest story and quite removed from dry technical linguistics. The author describes his travels to interesting places, his meetings with scientists and researchers. He commends their work on recording a local threatened language and marvels with them at the grammatical intricacies of another. His primary interest are the individuals who attempt to save or rekindle their (grand)parents' tongues. He describes their surroundings, their community and profiles them with their aspirations and dreams. Through him, we meet elders who recall a time when their language was alive and well. Most activists feel that their language is a vital part of their identity that is worth saving. Others, often the younger people, feel motivated to pick theirs up, almost like a new hobby. Will the threatened languages survive? Some will, he argues, and gives Manx, Welsh and Mohawk as examples. Political reasons, the ambition to restore some autonomy from a strong neighbour, play an important part in the efforts to rekindle a local language. He compares language diversity with biological diversity of plants and animals. Both are in danger of being eroded or destroyed. The world will be a poorer place without them. Abley's account of his encounters make an enjoyable read. His selection of places he visited and languages to explore was to a degree arbitrary and sometimes coincidental, such as the discovery of Boro. He pursued leads from people and from respective studies that intrigued him. At times the reader might lose interest in a particularly detailed description of political events surrounding an endangered language issue. Africa, a continent extremely rich in traditional and threatened local languages, was unfortunately not on his travel routes. Experiences there might well have enriched the author's perspectives and deepened the readers' exposure to the challenges and opportunities of Africa's extraordinary diversity. For anybody interested in finding out more about the diverse world of language, this is a good start.

  7. 5 out of 5

    kingshearte

    Spoken Here - Mark Abley "In "Spoken Here," award-winning Canadian writer Mark Abley journeys from Australia to the Arctic seeking out languages in peril - Manx, Mohawk, Boro, Yiddish, and many more. He also visits places where the languages are fighting back - Wales, the Faeroe Islands, the Isle of Man - and charts the triumphant return of Hebrew, once reduced to a language of religious ceremony. While examining the forces that threaten rare languages, Abley reveals some delicious linguistic odd Spoken Here - Mark Abley "In "Spoken Here," award-winning Canadian writer Mark Abley journeys from Australia to the Arctic seeking out languages in peril - Manx, Mohawk, Boro, Yiddish, and many more. He also visits places where the languages are fighting back - Wales, the Faeroe Islands, the Isle of Man - and charts the triumphant return of Hebrew, once reduced to a language of religious ceremony. While examining the forces that threaten rare languages, Abley reveals some delicious linguistic oddities, from the Amazonian language spoken only by a parrot to a Caucasian language with no vowels, and shows us all the world loses when a language dies out." Interesting little book, although with less of a... thesis, I suppose one could say, than most non-fiction books. Abley doesn't really seem to set out with the intent of making or proving a point, as such, or even telling a story; it's more just an exploration of some of these languages. Which was kind of neat, and full of interesting little tidbits about some of them. Like the fact that in the Mati Ke (one of Australia's zillions of Aboriginal people) culture, siblings don't see each other after puberty. At all. Ever. Which means that pretty much the two remaining people who are fluent in the language can't get together and practice. Which is sad, but fascinating. And it's also kind of cool to see the resurgence of some of the languages, and the reasons for them - on the Isle of Man, it's a huge surge of international business that relies on the island being its own nation that has caused them to really embrace everything that makes them not British - like their language. Certain things were not as well though out as they could have been, though, maybe due to the lack of defined objective in writing the book. Things like when Abley contradicts himself, saying in one chapter that words sneaking in from other languages is the first sign of a dying language, and then later claiming that a language that doesn't borrow words is clearly on the verge of extinction. Really can't have it both ways (and, even before I got to the second statement, English itself proves the utter fallacy of the first). But generally, not a bad read for a language geek like me.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Greg Fanoe

    This isn't actually a book about threatened languages, it's just one long screed against globalization. And not well-reasoned arguments against globalization either, just a series of assertions. With a smattering of constant insults against linguists that smack of anti-intellectualism. Worse, there's barely any content about the actual languages profiled here. It's basically just "hey, they say stuff different from us". I bought this book because reviews said that the book contained interesting This isn't actually a book about threatened languages, it's just one long screed against globalization. And not well-reasoned arguments against globalization either, just a series of assertions. With a smattering of constant insults against linguists that smack of anti-intellectualism. Worse, there's barely any content about the actual languages profiled here. It's basically just "hey, they say stuff different from us". I bought this book because reviews said that the book contained interesting content on how the structure of the languages influenced the culture and ways of thought of its speakers. I wish that was true. If it was, it would have made the book's argument 100x better. I'm willing to concede that's it's important to preserve the world's cultures, but I'm skeptical about how languages fit into that. Almost all of the languages in this book are dying because they were willingly given up after the culture already died. While this is sad, it's not entirely clear to me that it's worth saving a language at that point. In the book, they profile two strains of Gaelic which have survived, Welsh Gaelic and Manx Gaelic. Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic have mostly died out, but they still have just a strong a cultural identity, if not more strong, than Wales or the Isle of Man. So, how do they fit in? There's 1.5 great chapters in here (the chapter on Yiddish and half of the chapter on Yuchi). I'm still on the search for a book on world languages that's actually about world languages.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mitali

    This is a nice little ‘fluff’ book for anyone interested in languages, especially languages that you may never have heard of before, such as Mati Ke or Yuchi, or at least know nothing about, such as Manx or Provencal. But if you have the slightest amount of linguistic training, you’d better avoid the book, as you’ll probably give yourself eyestrain while rolling your eyes after nearly every other sentence. This book is a loving tribute to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – or rather, one should say Sa This is a nice little ‘fluff’ book for anyone interested in languages, especially languages that you may never have heard of before, such as Mati Ke or Yuchi, or at least know nothing about, such as Manx or Provencal. But if you have the slightest amount of linguistic training, you’d better avoid the book, as you’ll probably give yourself eyestrain while rolling your eyes after nearly every other sentence. This book is a loving tribute to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – or rather, one should say Sapir-Whorf fallacy, as the strong version, to which Mr. Abley subscribes, is completely disproven. That does not stop Mr. Abley from making extravagant claims about how a single word in Mohawk, for example, encapsulates the unique philosophy of all the speakers of that language, or deciding that because in Mati Ke, places and times occupy the same class of nouns, the language anticipated Einstein by thousands of years. His constant determination to ‘exoticize’ everything from non-familiar cultures comes off as extremely patronizing at times. On the other hand, there are plenty of factual titbits that are fun to learn for any language lover. Also, the stories of how languages like Manx and Welsh are being revived – or have been revived, in case of Hebrew – are fascinating. On the whole, this is a mixed bag of a book: there’s some pretty good content, but it’s delivered in such an annoying tone that it can make reading the book a chore at times.

  10. 5 out of 5

    shatine

    The conversations Abley has with speakers of threatened languages are really compelling. His commentary I didn't so much love. I'm not a linguist either, and I don't think academic jargon and Yuchi or Manx are in the same boat or even the same bay, but I do think it's funny to complain about opaque linguistic terminology in a book about preserving and celebrating the variety of the complicated and nuanced systems people have developed to communicate with each other. (This is even more minor, but I The conversations Abley has with speakers of threatened languages are really compelling. His commentary I didn't so much love. I'm not a linguist either, and I don't think academic jargon and Yuchi or Manx are in the same boat or even the same bay, but I do think it's funny to complain about opaque linguistic terminology in a book about preserving and celebrating the variety of the complicated and nuanced systems people have developed to communicate with each other. (This is even more minor, but I also laughed when he tried to demonstrate how alien Manx is to an English speaker, by giving this example: "I like [x]," in English = "[x] is good with me" in Manx I say variations on "that's good with me" probably every other day. In slightly different situations, if I'm understanding right, but it doesn't go against the grain.) The rest was just a lot of little less funny things that didn't sit right with me, and the overwhelmingly Sapir-Whorfy take on why a diversity of languages has value. But it was still a fascinating read, thanks to many people he talked to. I don't know if I'd recommend it, but I'm not sorry I read it, I guess. The chapter about the global reach and future of English was especially odd to read in 2018, just since my impression was that it was based in part on the assumption of a functional US.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The topic was interesting and has definitely left me wanting to know more about all the tiny languages of the world. But the book itself was kind of a slog. First, the author is Canadian and the book had over-much Canadian focus to be of general interest to this American reader. For example, the chapter on Yiddish focused in large part on the Jewish community of Montreal. A sort of interesting peak at an unfamiliar community, but maybe not the b I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The topic was interesting and has definitely left me wanting to know more about all the tiny languages of the world. But the book itself was kind of a slog. First, the author is Canadian and the book had over-much Canadian focus to be of general interest to this American reader. For example, the chapter on Yiddish focused in large part on the Jewish community of Montreal. A sort of interesting peak at an unfamiliar community, but maybe not the best place location for a case study on the future of Yiddish. Also, the author admits that he's not a linguist and has not formal background or training. This shows throuughout the book. The author frequently quotes passages from linguistic texts mostly in a "look how complicated this stuff is" manner rather than in a helpful or explanatory way. I sometimes believed quotes were included because the author wanted to demonstrate just how hard he worked to put the book together.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Juliet Wilson

    This is a book for anyone fascinated by languages. The author visits speakers of some of the most threatened languages in the world, visiting Australia, USA, Canada, Wales, France and The Isle of Man. He explores why the languages are threatened, looks at the structure of the languages and what is unique to each of them, what the world would lose if each of these languages were to disappear. He also looks at how people are trying to keep their language alive and tries to assess whether each lang This is a book for anyone fascinated by languages. The author visits speakers of some of the most threatened languages in the world, visiting Australia, USA, Canada, Wales, France and The Isle of Man. He explores why the languages are threatened, looks at the structure of the languages and what is unique to each of them, what the world would lose if each of these languages were to disappear. He also looks at how people are trying to keep their language alive and tries to assess whether each language has any chance of surviving. Anyone who thinks it isn't worthwhile for local authorities in Wales to publish everything in Welsh as well as English should change their minds after reading this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Yvonne

    This book combines history along with observations from various people who speak and struggle to preserve languages that are threatening to disappear. Yet it offers hope for threatened languages based on a few languages that came back from the brink of extinction. I think anyone who speaks any language should read this book to take notice of the beauty of speaking different languages. It also promotes saving languages since language is culture.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hillary

    Short stories about endangered languages were cute, but not a lot of linguistic depth to them. To be fair though, the author did forewarn that he is not a linguist himself. I would have liked to have read more in-depth backgrounds and histories of the languages he covered. Nonetheless, still a fairly good read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    A quick and interesting introduction to language ecology/the alarming problem of language death.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

    Not a bad book, just disappointing. The author is too prominent instead of letting the people he is reporting on speak for themselves.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Crysta

    What a lovely surprise. I had grabbed this book a few years ago at a library sale, intrigued by the idea of exploring "threatened languages" but worried it would be a more linguistics/scientific approach. Instead, most of the book is stories of those threatened languages, including Murrinh-Patha and Yolngu in Aboriginal Australia; Provencal, Welsh and Manx in Europe; Mohawk and Yuchi in North America; Yiddish (which transcends borders); and others. Some of the languages are making comebacks (Wel What a lovely surprise. I had grabbed this book a few years ago at a library sale, intrigued by the idea of exploring "threatened languages" but worried it would be a more linguistics/scientific approach. Instead, most of the book is stories of those threatened languages, including Murrinh-Patha and Yolngu in Aboriginal Australia; Provencal, Welsh and Manx in Europe; Mohawk and Yuchi in North America; Yiddish (which transcends borders); and others. Some of the languages are making comebacks (Welsh), while others are down to just a few elderly native speakers. Along the way, Abley looks at various attempts to save these languages, from launching radio broadcasts and teaching children to "entombing" them via recordings. But he goes deeper, exploring the barriers to saving them, from infighting over dialects to generations of shame perpetuated by colonizers. I was fascinated by how limited our Indo-European languages can be in conveying complex ideas, along with how the structure of different languages can be reflected in culture. Abley has dozens of examples of words that we just can't convey, and structures that vary tremendously from English norms. For example, most Indo-European languages rely most heavily on nouns, while other languages treat nouns as almost an afterthought. Abley cites scholars who wonder if, "The way that the English-speaking world structures its sentences explains to me, in a small way, why western society is so self-centered and narcissistic, why it is so fixated on the cult of the individual and why it is so obsessed with celebrities." (p 187) This book was published in 2003, so there are a few mentions of the internet, but more mentions of CD-Roms and bulky recording equipment. I wonder how these languages are doing 17 years later. Is the internet helping to cultivate more speakers? Are there more "hobbyists" who treat the language as as curiosity but don't use it in daily life? Or is the dominance of a few big languages flattening out the remaining small languages who don't actively create their own culture? Good food for thought all around.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Angela Carothers

    This is the book that got me into Linguistics when I first read it in high school. I've gone back and re-read it countless times because it's interesting and enjoyable (and now holds a bit of nostalgia for me, I suppose). This is the book that got me into Linguistics when I first read it in high school. I've gone back and re-read it countless times because it's interesting and enjoyable (and now holds a bit of nostalgia for me, I suppose).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Stewart-kelley

    Interesting. Learned things. My edition came out in 2003, making me want to follow up on some of the languages. Would have given it a 4, but many times the author's depressing attitude made me put the book down. Took a long time for me to read it. Interesting. Learned things. My edition came out in 2003, making me want to follow up on some of the languages. Would have given it a 4, but many times the author's depressing attitude made me put the book down. Took a long time for me to read it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This book jumps around a bit, even within the different chapters, but is informative and more or less engaging.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Abley has a point about minority languages being worth saving. The problem to me is that he’s making the wrong argument for it. His angle on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis seems wrong. (Though I don’t know what the latest research is,) There’s doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support it in its strongest senses. So what’s the big deal? Abley repeatedly makes the point that when we lose a language, we literally lose a way of thinking. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem so according to research, though Abley has a point about minority languages being worth saving. The problem to me is that he’s making the wrong argument for it. His angle on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis seems wrong. (Though I don’t know what the latest research is,) There’s doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support it in its strongest senses. So what’s the big deal? Abley repeatedly makes the point that when we lose a language, we literally lose a way of thinking. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem so according to research, though subjectively it does seem so. He also tries to make a correlation between a language taking on foreign words and expressions and its safety among the land of the living. Au contraire! It makes a language richer to broaden its base. While I wouldn’t suggest that English isn’t a juggernaut that infiltrates the most isolated parts of the world, English words and idioms in a language isn’t prima facie evidence that they’re killing the invaded tougue. Enough. I’m getting a bit of schadenfreude from commenting on the foibles of that idea. For the record, the previous paragraph had words either directly brought over from or naturalized to English from: Latin, prima facie; French, au contraire; German, schadenfreude; Greek, isolated; Hindi, juggernaut; Norse, they. So clearly this tendency for languages to accrete foreign words isn’t a necessary precondition for demise. Except that he’s right. Language is a cultural thing. Answer this: Can a person be culturally Russian and not speak Russian? That idea is almost preposterous. Sure you can be of Russian heritage or live in Russia and not speak Russian, but to identify as ethnically Russian? Similarly it is difficult to conceive of French culture without the French language. But what about being Welsh? Can you be culturally and ethnically Welsh without speaking Welsh? Seemingly the answer to that is yes. What do we lose by having Welsh people who speak nothing but English? This is where the book was interesting. He explored exactly some of those facets of minority languages, and this is why I unabashedly recommend this book. He explored the challenges minority-language speakers face both with the majority language and the fights within the community over such things as spelling. He looks at how languages are passed from generation to generation. It isn’t perfect, but Abley makes a point: the world is a poorer place without these small languages.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steffi

    The format of the book is a bunch of chapters about various “endangered” languages. The argument of the book is that we should fight against language death, because it leads to culture death. Abley does make the case that language is intimately connected to culture. If a language dies, so does a culture. But Abley doesn’t justify his assumption that language/culture death is bad. Languages die out all the time, and always have. Abley's analogies, like his likening of English to Wal-Mart, sugges The format of the book is a bunch of chapters about various “endangered” languages. The argument of the book is that we should fight against language death, because it leads to culture death. Abley does make the case that language is intimately connected to culture. If a language dies, so does a culture. But Abley doesn’t justify his assumption that language/culture death is bad. Languages die out all the time, and always have. Abley's analogies, like his likening of English to Wal-Mart, suggest that the book is basically another manifestation of anti-globalization paranoia and the desire to control the evolution of life on earth. Abley also gives a bad rap to linguistics. His focus is on anecdotes, local life, language politics, and history. The linguistics of each language is presented as being obscure, complex, and ultimately unlearnable (which conflicts with the goal of his book, since a language can’t be preserved if it can’t be learned). Readers also get an image of linguists as boogie-monsters who are only capable of viewing languages as mechanical tools to be analyzed and manipulated. Yeah, sometimes we’re like that. But only because a physicist performs calculations doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate the beauty of nature. Indeed, part of the beauty of language is in its richness and diversity. Abley should have included a bit more linguistic information – e.g. basic stuff like spelling and speech sounds. This could have easily been put into an appendix, so that people could have had the choice to learn about the various languages and compare them. For a fun, general-audience book like this, some maps or pictures would have been nice too. This is a nice Canadian book, with a few well-appreciated mentions of Montreal.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    The author isn't a trained linguist, which I think does more good than bad for this book. He's not afraid to make some pretty unscientific assertions for the sake of painting a more vivid picture or writing a more compelling story. On the pother hand, without and professional insight, what is there to say about endangered languages? That languages are disappearing and that's bad? I didn't feel like I was learning very much. During the worst chapters I was all too aware of how little information The author isn't a trained linguist, which I think does more good than bad for this book. He's not afraid to make some pretty unscientific assertions for the sake of painting a more vivid picture or writing a more compelling story. On the pother hand, without and professional insight, what is there to say about endangered languages? That languages are disappearing and that's bad? I didn't feel like I was learning very much. During the worst chapters I was all too aware of how little information was going to stay with me. Many times I could already imagine the single sentence summary I would remember in a month: "A lot of languages in Australia are vanishing, and that's a shame;" or "Manx died out, kind of, and now some people speak it again." For a while I thought it would be a 2-star book, but after a few chapters, the author really came into his own, I felt. Abley is at his best when he's writing less about museums and foundations trying to preserve a language and he just kind of captures a scene. I also appreciated how turns of phrase and vocabulary he introduced in earlier chapters were casually woven into later chapters, which was a neat way of illustrating the value of these linguistic pearls he found in dying languages. He's a good writer and I think if he decided to write a fiction story I would read it. It's billed as a kind of travelogue, and I'm starting to suspect I'm not a fan of that style in general. As much as I like to travel, I'm not too keen on reading about other people traveling. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone unless they already know they have an interest in languages in general or endangered languages in particular.

  24. 5 out of 5

    h

    this book would get a 5 for content and a 2 for writing. the style is journalistic in a bad sense of the word and includes a few factual errors that i'm aware of -- nevermind that ones i'm not. the writer has an agenda and does exactly what kept me out of journalism, he cherry-picks his examples to bolster the opinion he already had before he did any research. ugh. plus there's quite a lot of subconscious/tongue-in-cheek looking down at the minority language speakers and language advocates. even this book would get a 5 for content and a 2 for writing. the style is journalistic in a bad sense of the word and includes a few factual errors that i'm aware of -- nevermind that ones i'm not. the writer has an agenda and does exactly what kept me out of journalism, he cherry-picks his examples to bolster the opinion he already had before he did any research. ugh. plus there's quite a lot of subconscious/tongue-in-cheek looking down at the minority language speakers and language advocates. even the big reveal - he saves welsh for last because his parents are welsh-born - didn't save the narrator/author for me. i still don't like him, although i like the welsh and their language quite a lot. that said, the material itself is fascinating. and the book got me to think more clearly about some general questions that have been prominent in my life lately. (taking a class on bilingualism and learning 2 languages will get a person to think about languages, after all.) there's not a lot of new ground in this book, but for someone who is interested in global language use, there is something to be said for a readable (ie not linguistic textbook) work on the topic, which this is. i would recommend this book only with this caveat: know what you're getting - basically an expanded version of a sunday travel section piece - and what you're not - an eye-opening trip around the world through minority langauges.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    I started reading this book six years ago, and then something happened and I wasn't able to finish. I thought about it a lot in the intervening time and always knew I would come back to it. Part journalism, part travel writing, part linguistics, I would recommend this book to anyone with a lay interest in language and culture. Each chapter focuses on a different obscure language in danger of going extinct because its last native speakers are dying and their descendants have learned to communicat I started reading this book six years ago, and then something happened and I wasn't able to finish. I thought about it a lot in the intervening time and always knew I would come back to it. Part journalism, part travel writing, part linguistics, I would recommend this book to anyone with a lay interest in language and culture. Each chapter focuses on a different obscure language in danger of going extinct because its last native speakers are dying and their descendants have learned to communicate in a more dominant language instead. Abley does an amazing job showing how each language reflects particularities of its culture and how when you lose a language, you really lose a whole way of thinking about the world. For example, a language where when you want to refer to your cousin, you use a word whose literal translation is something like "my mother's brother's daughter." Each time you say the word, you're invoking the relationship, the chain of people linked together, which might speak to the value that culture places on extended family. There are tons more examples like this--belief systems implied by grammatical structures and mood states indescribable in English because our vocabulary doesn't identify them. It's fascinating.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John Blunden

    Being a Welsh speaker myself, I must admit, I was eagerly looking forward to this book. And, although it is very good, I must say that, at times, it frustrated me. As Mark Abley goes from community to community in which languages are beginning to fade away, he blends non-fiction very nicely with history, social commentary and linguistic study. By looking at several factors in a language’s demise, Abley does not let this book stagnate. Had this simply been a linguistic study of dying languages, I Being a Welsh speaker myself, I must admit, I was eagerly looking forward to this book. And, although it is very good, I must say that, at times, it frustrated me. As Mark Abley goes from community to community in which languages are beginning to fade away, he blends non-fiction very nicely with history, social commentary and linguistic study. By looking at several factors in a language’s demise, Abley does not let this book stagnate. Had this simply been a linguistic study of dying languages, I imagine most readers would have stopped way short of chapter two, as it’s not the most intriguing to those outside language study. But the broad spectrum that Abley wishes to comment on often left the story spread quite thin. I can understand that he would want to include several different languages from different peoples, but it would often leave the reader, who is just getting his or her head around the Mohawk subject-object order, suddenly dropped into Yiddish and Hebrew speech patterns. Certainly Abley is a good writer, often sympathetic, sometimes funny, but I wanted, sometimes, to be reading more on a certain subject, before he would cutaway to something completely new. Still, this book is worth a read by anyone interested in linguistics, or even travel.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Houlihan

    Even better than his Prodigal Tongue, Mark Abley's explorations of diminishing (and the very occasional not-yet-diminishing) languages fascinated me from beginning (aboriginal Australian) to end (Welsh). The political implications of Mohawk and Iroquois, the literary ones of Provençal and Occitan, the religious ones of Yiddish and Hebrew (and Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Provençal and Judeo-Persian, of which I had heard only the first), are endlessly intricate and packed with meaning and possibil Even better than his Prodigal Tongue, Mark Abley's explorations of diminishing (and the very occasional not-yet-diminishing) languages fascinated me from beginning (aboriginal Australian) to end (Welsh). The political implications of Mohawk and Iroquois, the literary ones of Provençal and Occitan, the religious ones of Yiddish and Hebrew (and Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Provençal and Judeo-Persian, of which I had heard only the first), are endlessly intricate and packed with meaning and possibility. Imagine the philosophical posers that cultures with several different forms of first-person plural (they and I but not you; two others and I and you; more than two others and I and not you, and so forth) could present to the Indo-European language speaker. Try to grasp the mindset of a someone whose speech relies on state of being as well as, or separate from, location and linear time. Mourn the knowledge that would be lost if the words for plants and their uses specific to pinpoint locations on the edges of maps were forgotten. Wonder how four different words for pre-dawn light can remain useful if their speakers sleep indoors.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mona

    Back in college, I took an English course titled "Literature and Globalization". In addition to reading literary works like Translations by Brian Friel and 1984 by George Orwell from a linguistic perspective, we worked on group research projects on various dying languages around the world. This book was our reading for that portion of the semester. It's a great read - informative, entertaining, and illuminating. I enjoyed the variety of languages that Abley chose to focus on, as well as his appr Back in college, I took an English course titled "Literature and Globalization". In addition to reading literary works like Translations by Brian Friel and 1984 by George Orwell from a linguistic perspective, we worked on group research projects on various dying languages around the world. This book was our reading for that portion of the semester. It's a great read - informative, entertaining, and illuminating. I enjoyed the variety of languages that Abley chose to focus on, as well as his approach to explaining the languages' quirky aspects in light of their cultural heritage. I wish the book had been a bit longer, or that there was a sequel of sorts. It really was that good.

  29. 5 out of 5

    David

    Edit to my initial rating: I've reviewed all my ratings for the sixty or so books on my language-related shelf and, in all conscience, I can't continue to give this one four stars. The topic is entirely too specific, and while there is nothing about the author's style that antagonizes, there is also little about it that is memorable in a good way. Nor is there an overarching theme to the book, so that it is ultimately nothing more than the sum of its chapters. I can't imagine revisiting this boo Edit to my initial rating: I've reviewed all my ratings for the sixty or so books on my language-related shelf and, in all conscience, I can't continue to give this one four stars. The topic is entirely too specific, and while there is nothing about the author's style that antagonizes, there is also little about it that is memorable in a good way. Nor is there an overarching theme to the book, so that it is ultimately nothing more than the sum of its chapters. I can't imagine revisiting this book any time soon (or, to be honest, at any time in the future), and I think that this judgement is ultimately inconsistent with a four-star review. Or, to put it in perspective another way, I gave four stars to Steven Pinker's latest language book - it would be criminal to pretend that this book comes anywhere near approaching the level of Pinker's work. Initial rating: Four stars because I am a total geek for all things language-related. Might not be for everyone.

  30. 5 out of 5

    David R.

    A very interesting "travelogue", but in this case focused more on selected locations where a minority language is struggling to survive (or advance). Abley takes us to Wales, the Isle of Man, Montreal, Nunavut, southeastern France, Oklahoma, and other places. The situations are diverse. For speakers of Yuchi and Provencal, for example, the question is survival of their tongue as aging speakers die out. For those of Manx, it's a matter of establishing credibility in a revival effort. And for Wels A very interesting "travelogue", but in this case focused more on selected locations where a minority language is struggling to survive (or advance). Abley takes us to Wales, the Isle of Man, Montreal, Nunavut, southeastern France, Oklahoma, and other places. The situations are diverse. For speakers of Yuchi and Provencal, for example, the question is survival of their tongue as aging speakers die out. For those of Manx, it's a matter of establishing credibility in a revival effort. And for Welsh, particularly, it's remaining successful. In my own mind, there's a terrible choice: we don't like to see languages become extinct as this destroys cultural heritage. But at the same time languages are the glue of nationalism --particulary strident nationalism, and that drive since the late 19th century has often proved corrosive to societies. Abley touches that question with delicacy although it really looms over the book.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...