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Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Languages Hardcover – March 1, 2012
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“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.” ―The Boston Globe
“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.” ―Booklist
“An entertaining and enlightening book from a brainy, foul-mouthed and very funny tour guide.” ―Kirkus Review
“An enchanting journey across the landscape of American language and culture, including everything from Navajo to Norwegian.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Little notes that there is a surprising variety of languages in the United States. In New York City alone, hundreds of languages are spoken.
She begins the road trip with Native American languages. She finds that most of them are on their last legs as living languages, and this turns out to be one of the themes for the book. Digging into the history of Native American languages, she finds that there's a disturbing pattern of language discrimination of the sort that occurred when Native American children were discouraged from speaking their home languages. Discouragement often took the form of physical punishment as well as creating a sense of shame about the language. It's what Newt Gingrich would call "the language of the ghetto."
Little finds similar language discrimination in the history of Creole language in Louisiana and Gullah in Georgia. This leads her to conclude that "the history of language in America is ... ultimately a history of language loss."
It's hard to disagree with her conclusion and that language discrimination that takes cruel forms is reprehensible. But not all language change in America has been involuntary. Little is disappointed that descendants of Basque immigrants in Nevada speak only a few words of Basque. Yet she acknowledges that she has never felt compelled to learn Norwegian, the language of her own immigrant ancestors.Read more ›
Among Little's interests is discovering what it takes for a non-dominant language to survive, and the book begins, naturally enough, with chapters on the states of Montana, Arizona and Washington where Native American languages are still being spoken with varying degrees of fluency. Later chapters cover some of the languages brought over by immigrants and the communities that may or may not care about keeping those languages alive, leading Little to encounter and describe a Basque festival in Nevada, a Norwegian fair in North Dakota, a smelly plague of some grasshopper-like insect in Idaho, zealous fans of Twilight in Oregon, and a Haitian vodou botanica in Miami.
With a more sociological slant than in books written by language professionals Little explores how language choices relate to status, economic privilege, literacy and cultural identity. Her descriptions and the many tangents she goes off on are as witty and irresistible as Bill Bryson's and, while not a linguist, her insights on language and creoles are just about as intriguing and paradigm-rearranging as John McWhorter's.
The author has a gift, much like Bill Bryson's, of being able to combine history and facts in a narrative that keeps the reader engaged while being very informative at the same time. Although the reader is learning a lot, the book doesn't feel dry or too much like a textbook, due to the author also sharing personal details about her roadtrip. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the differences among the various forms of Louisiana French and how they developed (and are continuing to transform), and how the relative isolation of North Dakota caused the Norwegian language to last through more generations than usual. At one point in my life, I'm sure I learned at least a little about each of the languages and cultures mentioned in the book, but I had definitely forgotten most of it. This book was an excellent refresher, as well as a great way to learn even more - for example, I have never given much thought to the Basque population in the western U.S, but now, it will be something I think of the next time I visit Nevada.
Recommended for anyone who is interested in languages or in U.S. history.
The author includes discussion on Native American languages in the book, and encourages readers to think of the groups separately rather than clumping them all together, since many of the indigenous languages are so different from one another. I think I liked the Navajo chapter best. It was disheartening to read that Diné children in boarding schools become isolated from their families, and chastised for speaking their native language, thereby creating an inferior mindset about their heritage.
There are several parts in the book where the author stops at the place she visits, tries to vividly describe her surroundings, and then discusses the linguistic background of the culture in which she is trying to get culturally immersed. Initially, I thought I would enjoy those parts of the book the most, but they came out a bit dry for me. I would also have to disagree with the author on one of her conclusions. To answer the big “so what?” question, Elizabeth Little argues that these languages are worth preserving because she finds them interesting to learn. While they may be interesting from an anthropological point of view, I don’t feel that her response is adequate to warrant saving languages that are in threat of extinction.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Monika
This one purports to be two things. One is an investigation of languages other than English that have played a role in American history (Native American languages, creoles,... Read morePublished on January 2, 2014 by C. P. Anderson
If you ever wondered about languages, here's one for you. Especially appreciated the information about Native American languages. Read morePublished on August 13, 2013 by Maria
Trip of the Tongue is excellent. Witty, conversational, and very smart, this book really spoke to me. I'm a first generation immigrant and a native New Yorker. Read morePublished on May 2, 2013 by O. Kogan
This is a great listen when you are traveling to other countries. The narration was to understand and the facts were very helpful. Read morePublished on March 24, 2013 by Someone54
I was really looking forward to learning more about languages. Just the idea of understanding the roots of Gullah was intriguing. Read morePublished on August 8, 2012 by David Liebsch
At the beginning of the last chapter, Little writes, "This is not the book I thought I was going to write. Read morePublished on July 16, 2012 by Karen Inda
I love travel narratives. I'm not happy if I haven't read a good travel narrative at least once a month.
I am also fascinated with languages. Read more