Monday, October 09, 2006

The Unfolding of Language

by Guy Deutscher
You hear it several times a year: the English language is going to hell in a handbasket. People are losing their ability to put together a sentence. No one has any respect for grammar or punctuation these days! Like many linguists, Guy Deutscher finds this standard rant both amusing and ignorant. Turns out that it's not just English, it's every other language as well. And it's not just "nowadays," either. People have been complaining about the younger generations' mangling of their language since the ancient Egyptians, and probably long before that. The fact is, languages are constantly falling apart, and, nostalgia aside, there has never been a Golden Age when the rules of your favorite language were perfectly upheld. So how, in the face of this constant, global linguistic decay, do languages survive and even thrive? Deutscher explains the way language evolves over time, and even speculates about how the first languages might have come into existence. The book is a bit thick at times, but illuminating, thought-provoking, and funny as well.

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