Customer Reviews for

What Language Is (And What It Isn't and What It Could Be)

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  • Posted November 25, 2011

    An Excellent Discussion of Spoken Languages

    I suppose I was expecting more of a discussion of language as a mode of communication. This it was not. Rather, it is a discussion about the variously different ways language is structured; the idioms of oral communication. The author, in fact, uses the word IDIOM as an acronym reminder for each of the chapter subjects; Ingrown, Dissheveled, Intricate, Oral, Mixed. This technique has its uses but tends to lead into repetition of the same information from different perspectives. But even so, the presentations are useful and clarifying.
    While I do not think an explanation of "What Language Is" was fully discussed, what was discussed in the way of comparative grammars was excellent; far beyond my own non-technical background and presented in a way that I could easily grasp. I went 4-star because I am thoroughly enjoying the book but did not find any philosophical discussion on the nature of exchanging concepts and ideas. I had expected some reference to Boole and/or Frege and how the concepts of programming languages fit in. But that seems to not be a consideration here. Rather he discusses langauge families, similarities in development of modern Persian and English, compared with, say Pashto, which has a source the same as modern Persian but us far more complex. Then, the complexity of verb forms, the practice of suffixing and prefixing, sentence construction, historical influence of migratory patterns and political dominance on word and grammar evolution (wouldn't say language development here because it seems more like change and simplication over time), are what he discusses well. For me, it gives me better occasion to stop and pause as I consider my own ability to conceive and think being structured and influenced by my own native language (American style English). I found this very useful and educational. A strong case is made for nothing being inherently correct in language. Correct is a matter of convention, use, and popular understanding. I recall some of Noah Websters labored rules for spelling; when to use gh for the f sound (like in "enough") versus when to use it as a silent appendage (like in "though"). It seems silly to engage in justifications and reasons why a language behaves as it does when convention and acceptance in a population make it so. Of course, to disregard accepted convention purposely is to break down on a present utility of a given language.
    I would think that anyone with an interest in langauge as a subject would find this book useful and educational.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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