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Story of Language Textbook Binding – June, 1965

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Product Details

  • Textbook Binding
  • Publisher: Lippincott (June 1965)
  • ISBN-10: 0397004001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0397004003
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,809,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Adelie on December 6, 1999
Format: Textbook Binding
Long ago, I learned that language is the second most complex thing humans learn (the first is time, because it's purely abstract.) That piqued my curiosity about it - how the first languages developed; why they are simultaneously so different and so similar; the ways in which history and language are intertwined; the development of the minutiae of grammar; how we learn language, syntax, vocabulary, and writing; the differing ways cultures have dealt with their specific linguistic needs, and why... I wanted it all.
This book answered some of my questions in a way that I, a non-linguist, could understand. I had tried to do a little reading on my own, but quickly got bogged down in Chomsky and the other eminences grise of the field - I wasn't prepared for doctoral dissertations, and that's pretty much all that was available. Pei's book was the first one I found that brought this stuff down to the layperson's level. Simplistic? Sure, but easily understandable. I understand that Pei's academic reputation has suffered because of his attempts to reach the great linguistically unwashed masses, but I appreciate him for setting me off on a journey that continues to this day. For me, there is no more fascinating subject; without language, nothing is possible. We take our ability to express ourselves very much for granted, and never stop to think about what a colossal task we accomplished when we learned a language - this book ought to be the canon of the self-esteem movement!
I know it is out of print, but I was fortunate to find a hardback copy in a used book store. I hope you do, too - and that it lights your fascination with language as it did mine.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Magellan HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
The late Mario Pei was professor of comparative romance philology at Columbia University, and this book is still one of the few introductions to linguistics that is accessible by the layman. There's not much on Chomskyan transformational grammar and other very technical topics in linguistics, but that's okay, there is a lot to learn about the basic structure and nature of language before one should be tackling Chomsky.
This includes basic concepts about grammar and the parts of speech, the basic principles of word morphology, phonetics, and phonology, language change and evolution, structural linguistics and de Saussure's important and influential ideas in the area, understanding the major language families and how they differ from each other, and the same for the individual languages in your own language group, and so on.
Pei discusses these topics in the non-technical and easy to understand way that he was known for. All in all it's still a useful book for the non-specialist. After this you should try a real college-level introductory linguistics text if you're willing to take the next step. After that, or maybe after reading another one or two books on general linguistics, such as Sturtevant's Introduction to Linguistic Science, I recommend John Lyons' great classic, Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics. It's out of print but worth picking up if you can find a used copy. If Lyons's book isn't available then try Donna Jo Napoli's more recent text.
After reading Lyons's book, you'll be ready to start tackling real professional research literature and books in the field, and getting a good, solid book on transformational grammar theory would probably be the next step to do after that. But even if you stop with Pei's book and don't go on to other more advanced readings, you'll still have gained a new appreciation for language and the fascinating science that is linguistics.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By lanoitan on September 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
I enjoy learning about language and where our words come from. So for people who like this sort of thing, they will find this the sort of thing they like. Examples: Patella (the medical term for kneecap) in Latin meant 'frying pan' and the food 'paella' comes from the same Latin word. In France, a cat does not 'purr' but goes 'ron-ron'. The name of the breed Samoyed, is the name of a Siberian tribe and the name means 'self-eating' because it was thought the tribe was cannibalistic. The book is filled with this stuff, so I found it great fun to read. Now if people complain of pain in their kneecap, I think they are complaining of pain in their frying pan.
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By Paul Magnussen on June 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This, an eminently readable survey of all the World's languages and their characteristics, is one of the most interesting books I've come across.

Mario Pei (1901-1978) "was born in Rome, Italy, and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1908. By the time he was out of high school he knew not only English and his native Italian but also Latin, Greek, and French. Over the years he became fluent in several other languages (including Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and German) capable of speaking some 30 others, and acquainted with the structure of at least 100 of the world's languages." (Wikipedia).

I can well believe it: the breadth of knowledge displayed in this book is quite astonishing. It is divided into five parts:

1. The History of Language
2. The Constituent Elements of Language
3. The Social Functions of Language
4. Modern Spoken Tongues
5. An International Language

The whole work, in addition to generalities, is replete with fascinating snippets: did you know that Bantu has words for "One who loses other people's things" (mumagamagama) and "one who growls when woken up in the morning" (muwandoloci)?

I did notice a few errors on British usage (notably "Britisher" for "Briton"), but these are trivial.

Of course, this book (in its first edition, anyway) was written before Chomsky revolutionised modern linguistics, but I didn't feel any deficiency on that basis at all.

I thoroughly recommend this to anyone with the slightest interest in the subject.
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