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Word play: What happens when people talk Hardcover

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 421 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Books (1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055323465X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553234657
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,212,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Why do certain words make us blush or wince? Why do men and women really speak different languages? Why do nursery rhymes in vastly different societies possess similar rhyme and rhythm patterns? What do slang, riddles and puns secretly have in common?

This erudite yet irresistibly readable book examines the game of language: its players, strategies, and hidden rules. Drawing on the most fascinating linguistic studies--and touching on everything from the Marx Brothers to linguistic sexism, from the phenomenon of glossolalia to Apache names for automobile parts--Word Play shows what really happens when people talk, no matter what language they happen to be using.

"A captivating, almost entirely unpedantic book...solidly founded in scholarship, love of language, and an unabashed worldliness about play itself."--Washington Post

" curious, amusing, and enlightening...we almost inadvertently learn a great deal about linguistics. [But] it seems scarcely to matter what we've learned...we've simply had too much fun."--The New York Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By First Things First on December 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
I've been on a kick recently to read all the books I can get my hands on pertaining to language. I found this one in the philosophy/linguistics section of my local bookstore. It subsequently sat in my "to-read" pile (which now numbers around 1,462 books) for a few months. When I finally picked it up I was floored by the amount of fascinating information it contained about English and its similarities to the world's other languages. The rather surprising but clearly correct conclusion of the book is that no matter how weird, foreign, alien, or just bizarre other languages may sound to us, human languages all share the same basic means and mechanics of expression! None are more inherently "difficult" than others, as is borne out by the ease with which infants in every speech community of the world pick up their native language with the same ease and celerity. The author also blows to smithereens the notion that English or any other language is "better" or "more expressive" than any other, and demonstrates that English prevails as the world's preferred language largely as the result of geopolitical factors, rather than its "superiority". In fact, whether a group of people speak English, Ancient Greek, Swahili, Apache, Russian, Chinese, Egyptian, Burmese, Polynesian, French, Latin or Eskimo language , every one of these speech communities possesses a tongue capable of rich expression, poetic nuance, literature, subtlety, and flights of imagination. Where they differ is that each one, is custom-suited to the physical realities and the cultural traditions of the particular place, and represent the best means for the populace there to communicate and transact business.Read more ›
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By James on February 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
I teach English as a Second Language in Taiwan. Unlike most books about linguistics, this book helped me understand "what happens when people talk", and that has made me a more effective teacher. I re-read it several times a year to keep its insights fresh in my mind. Each re-reading reveals new depths of understanding. In spite of being almost 10 years old, I still regard as the best of its kind.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Phil (San Diego, CA) on August 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Word Play" is one of the few books that has stayed in my memory for decades. How many works of nonfiction actually provide useful ideas that you find yourself using on a regular basis? You know how it is, a book may be interesting for the duration of time in which you're reading it but not long after it dissipates from memory and eventually winds up being sent to the thrift store. Not so with Peter Farb's perennial from 1973.

"Word Play" inadvertently wound up being my introduction to the psychology of linguistics. Farb analyzes how language is used across various cultures and how that use of language reveals how those cultures think. You and I might think of distance in terms of miles but the language of a Native American tribe speaks of distance in terms of time, "three days' journey". How do these differences in language influence the way we perceive the world around us? Examination of such models becomes one of the most fascinating ideas touched upon in "Word Play".

In recent years linguistics has become a hot topic due to the purveyors of neurolinguistic programming, but Farb's work preceded that trend's ascendancy. Its anthropological approach makes it more engaging than most of those works that focus on diagnostics or detailed structure of language.

The first half the book was spellbinding. Once I got the point, the second half amounted to more of the same and I came to the conclusion that I'd already gotten from the book what I'd intended. Nevertheless, this is one of a dozen or two books that has found a permanent place in my library.
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