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A Mouthful of Air: Language, Languages...Especially English 1st Edition

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0688119355
ISBN-10: 0688119352
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Burgess, who invented a teenspeak for the gangs in his novel A Clockwork Orange, infects readers with his love of words in a delightful, wittily urbane romp through the world's languages, in particular "volatile and hospitable" English. This is several books in one: a painless primer on linguistics; a survey of tongues from Albanian to Welsh (spoken by King Arthur, a Romanized Celt); the story of alphabets and of language's evolution from prehistoric Indo-European to words like quark ; an exploration of how English became rich and flexible as Old English was transformed into what is spoken and written today. Chapters cover slang and taboo words, great dictionary makers, poetry, the Bible, film dubbing, how Shakespeare spoke his lines. Burgess also offers tips for learning foreign languages and suggestions for secondary-school English teachers. A Mouthful incorporates much of Language Made Plain , published some 30 years ago, but it contains a wealth of new material.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Burgess has written a fascinating study of language. His wide knowledge of languages, music, and literature and his ability to explain the most difficult concepts make this an engrossing book. In the first section, Burgess discusses languages in general, paying special attention to grammar and phonetics. The second section is devoted to the English language. Burgess's discussion of the Celtic languages and Shakespeare's pronunciation are excellent brief summaries, and his understanding of grammar and phonetics is the key to his explanations of the change and development of English. He compares various languages and shows the differences and similarities of structure and content. Demonstrating a sound historic knowledge of English, he explains many of the difficultaspects of the language while providing interesting comments about Creole languages, slang, black English, and language education. Highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/93.
- Gene Shaw, NYPL
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow & Co; 1st edition (August 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688119352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688119355
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #346,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anthony Burgess (25th February 1917-22nd November 1993) was one of the UK's leading academics and most respected literary figures. A prolific author, during his writing career Burgess found success as a novelist, critic, composer, playwright, screenwriter, travel writer, essayist, poet and librettist, as well as working as a translator, broadcaster, linguist and educationalist. His fiction also includes NOTHING LIKE THE SUN, a recreation of Shakespeare's love-life, but he is perhaps most famous for the complex and controversial novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, exploring the nature of evil. Born in Manchester, he spent time living in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in England, until his death in 1993.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Ott VINE VOICE on June 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is the ultimate book for someone like me, an amateur linguist and lover of literature. While Burgess covers some territory with which I am intimately familiar (and makes some minor factual errors), I can't but recommend the book whole-heartedly.

Aimed at British readers (noticeable only in the sections on phonology, or the production of sounds), Burgess gives a crash course on linguistics and language in a tone that is at once entertaining and informative, bookish without being pedantic. He argues persuasively for the teaching of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) in schools and, near the end of the book, even ventures into how the study of the components of langugae can inform the reading of modern poetry and prose.

While it will help for a reader to be familiar with some basics of linguistics (phonology more than syntax, morphology or grammar), it is not required. I couldn't help wishing, as I read the book, that it had been my introduction to the subject. After learning about how speech sounds are produced by the lips, teeth and tongue, and learning about how they are categorized scientifically and recorded in various alphabets, Burgess plunges us into perhaps the greatest linguistic development of the last two centuries, the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European, the language from which sprang Greek, Latin, Russian, Sanskrit, German, English, Spanish, French, Swedish, Persian and so many others. The miracle of being able to find instant cognates in other languages once you know a few simple rules of sound changes is superbly demonstrated by Burgess here.

Burgess also discusses two non-Indo-European languages, each in its own individual chapter: Malay & Japanese.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Al Kihano on January 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book, an expansion of Burgess' earlier _Language Made Plain_, is a fabulous way to learn how language works -- how we make sounds, how words change through the years, how languages differ from each other. Burgess' book on language is in many ways a curious sort of literary autobiography, as so much of his writing has been wordplay of one sort or another. As always, his writing is lively and lucid.
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Format: Hardcover
A wide-ranging book about language and linguistics for the non-specialist reader. It covers many topics, including the physical production of speech, an overview of the development of linguistic theory, and a great deal on the English language. Despite the sometimes technical subject matter, the book is so engagingly written that it is a real pleasure to read.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on October 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is the same Anthony Burgess who writes novels. He was a teacher of English before he became a professional writer and thus he brings credentials to this book about language and linguistics.

"Mouthful of Air" is written for British readers and Americans may find some of the discussions of British pronunciation a bit esoteric and mysterious. Being a sloppy-voweled American I didn't really comprehend the subtle differences the author perceives in pronunciation of the words "marry merry Mary," for example. They sound the same to me. Thus, his technical discussions of vowel differences did not resonate in differing vibrations to my inner ear. I would likewise question the author's opinion that the phonetic alphabet should be required learning in school. That would be about as useful as reinstituting Latin as a required course.

Burgess divides his book into two parts. Part one deals with technical aspects of language. For example, he titles one graphic, "Chart of Consonants According to their Organs of Articulation." The consonants are then divided into stop plosives, nasals, laterals, fricatives, glides, and affricates. Whew! I don't think I would want to be in an English class with Burgess as a teacher. Amongst discussion of affricates and fricatives, however, are some interesting chapters on the development of the Indo-European tongues and brief chapters on Malay and Japanese to show how they differ from Indo-European languages.

Part two is about English -- mostly British English, but also American, Australian, and Scottish. He briefly examines dialects, literature, "low life" language, and the influence of the Bible on language. A minority of people will find his technical discussions instructive.
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