Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of Americas Languages

Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of Americas Languages

4.5 2
by Elizabeth Little
     
 

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Though we speak English as a nation, its no secret that America is far from uniform. Spanish, in particular, has long been touted as the language that will figure into our national future; much has been written about the need to recognize it in our laws and schools.
Yet billing America as a bilingual country is a gross misrepresentation. They speak Basque in

Overview

Though we speak English as a nation, its no secret that America is far from uniform. Spanish, in particular, has long been touted as the language that will figure into our national future; much has been written about the need to recognize it in our laws and schools.
Yet billing America as a bilingual country is a gross misrepresentation. They speak Basque in Nevada, Hindi in San Jose, and Gullah in South Carolina. We speak European, Asian, and Native American languages, as well as hybrids like Creole and Spanglish. And Elizabeth Littles home--Queens, New York--is among the most ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse places on the planet.
Small surprise, then, that Little felt a yearning to find the cultural and linguistic soul of the country. And she has done it in the most American way imaginable: on a road trip.
This book is the result: a festive roadmap of the bounties of our country. Well learn about the struggle of the French-speaking population of Maine to get along with the community around them; the traditional ways of the German-speaking Amish in Pennsylvania; and the rich history of the little-known African population of Nantucket. Elizabeth Little is a witty and endearing tourguide for this memorable and original trip.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As much a travelogue as a linguistic field log, Little (Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic) regales readers with her two-year odyssey crisscrossing the United States exploring the relationship between language and the American experience. A self-professed linguaphile, Little examines language communities, such as the Gullah speakers of South Carolina, and their relationship to English, a tongue she admits she considered boring. Some of her most interesting, and sobering, stops are in reservation towns, where she discovers the steady decline of Native languages among the Crow and Navajo. Little also touches down in New Orleans and the surrounding towns to investigate the nature of Creole and the origins of “picayune.” And she stops in Elko, Nev., home to a surprisingly vibrant Basque community. In the end, Little highlights the sad irony that America, whose history of immigration has given it a rich linguistic diversity, is also a place of “language loss,” which she attributes to discrimination rather than, in at least some cases, a genuine desire to assimilate. Still, this is fascinating for the linguistically inclined and for those interested in how our history is reflected in the words we speak. (Apr.)
Booklist

Fascinating…Little's obvious enthusiasm drives the prose and keeps the information fresh and relevant. Arguing that language heritage is about more than the use of definite articles, Little delivers a revealing lesson in history, culture, prejudice, and privilege.
The Boston Globe

Little makes for a perfect tour guide. More than a collection of fascinating linguistic details (though it is that), by the end this book deepens into a full-throated defense of everybody's native tongues, and the right - no, the need - to hang onto them.
Kirkus Reviews
A multiethnic cross-country trip with a smart and saucy pedant at the wheel. In this lively follow-up to her debut, Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic (2007), Little tours a variety of cultures to see how well their native languages are holding up against the predominance of English. She starts by visiting a variety of Indian tribes--the Crow in Montana, the Navajo in Arizona, the Makah in Seattle--where a theme quickly takes hold: Languages don't always die a natural death. Sometimes they're victims of attempted murder, as people who assimilated into 19th- and early-20th-century American life (often against their will) found their language banished. Little also hunts the byways of New Orleans to sort out the roots of the mixed-race and mixed language known as Creole. In Charleston, S.C., she samples the salty English and African gumbo known as Gullah. She learns the unlearnable Basque language in Nevada and finds differences between Spanish spoken in New Mexico and elsewhere. Throughout, Little effectively employs humor, which takes the edge off her occasional root-and-branch disseminations on etymology. She ranks scenes of natural beauty by the number of times it makes her use the F-word; the view from a Seattle highway turns her "into a character from Glengarry Glen Ross"; a bite of lutefisk in North Dakota "seemed like something was decomposing in my mouth." In a description you'll never hear from Al Roker, the author describes the weather in Laredo, Texas, as "hotter than Satan's sweaty ball sack." An entertaining and enlightening book from a brainy, foul-mouthed and very funny tour guide.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608198290
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
02/28/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
870,892
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Little is the author of Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic. A Harvard graduate with a degree in Social Studies, she has formal training in Ancient Greek, Classical Chinese, Standard Mandarin, French, and Italian. She is currently a freelance writer and editor and lives in Los Angeles. Her website is http://www.elizabeth-little.com.

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Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Languages 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book becus it has dumb facts abuot the trolles and it's funny to i can tell you one of the facts abuot the trolles thay can grow trees on ther feet and ther heds to thts way i think you shuod read this book.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
A "celebration of American multiculturalism," Trip of the Tongue was a fascinating read. Part memoir, part travel book, and a historical and linguistic adventure all rolled in one, Elizabeth Little explores some of the (very numerous!) languages that make up the United States. Little devotes chapters to several Native American languages, French and Louisiana Creole, Gullah (how did I live in Charleston, South Carolina for six years without learning about Gullah?!), Basque, Norwegian, Haitian Creole, and Spanish, while starting off and concluding with English. As she says in the introduction, "the most interesting story English has to tell . . . is the fact that English is spoken at all." One complaint I have specific to the ebook version. Even with publisher defaults turned on, whenever Little included charts/images, the font was very, very tiny. I couldn't zoom in, and changing the font size only affected the text around it. Though not terribly frequent, this was content I wanted to read, and there were enough instances to make me wish I'd purchased a print copy. Little's tone would sometimes shift suddenly between slightly formal and very casual. This is where the memoir feel comes in. It was a bit odd to be reading about history and linguistics (such as the above example) and then come across a phrase like "it was hotter than Satan's sweaty ball sack." Don't get me wrong - I totally laughed. I was just caught off guard. After I got used to these shifts, I was kind of thankful for the breaks the lighter sections gave me. Trip of the Tongue shows the impact slavery, colonialism, prejudice, and privilege have on language. It also looks into the reasons languages die off, as well as what some communities are doing to prevent that. If you are half as fascinated with language as I am, you'll love this book!