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You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity Hardcover – March 8, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
Lane Green's You Are What You Speak is sharp, funny and filled with insight into the politics and pretense of languages' guardians and scolds. Cutting right to the chase, Green gives us a brief history of grammar grouches from Cicero and John Dryden to modern day cranks like David Foster Wallace and that queen of cranks, Lynne Truss. In doing so, Green not only reassures us that language isn't going to hell in a hand basket--only a small minority have ever thought so--but that it is flourishing as it should, from the speakers' needs.
More importantly, his considerable depth of learning debunks many myths. The split infinitive police are supported not by facts but early grammarians who based their rules on their knowledge of Latin (where it is impossible to split one-word infinitives). In English though, it is possible to do so and only undesirable when it creates confusion. As for dangling preps, Green says, by all means do. There is no reason not to, and for clarity's sake, plenty of reasons to go ahead. He provides some delightful examples of when following the dangling prep rule is preposterous.
The author makes the important point that a few grouches have forgotten that language created writing not vice-versa. Hilarious criticisms of England's great poets and writers by grammarians cinches Green's argument that the scolds have lost all sense of perspective and proportion.Read more ›
His good-natured crusade against sticklers really struck a chord with me, however, it's not like the author's is some dippy free-for-all grammar hippie - Greene clearly loves language and the most endearing and ultimately interesting point of this book was, to me, how he convincingly argues that language should be celebrated and cherished for its diversity, not ranked and looked down upon (or snobbily aspired upwards to by the socially ambitious). I personally have no real background in linguistics (just a love of languages) and I learned so much - next time I find myself in a discussion about language and politics, or culture I will feel infinitely more confident because of this book! Interesting, thorough, surprising, I really loved it!
Greene also exposes those who would use language (nefariously) for political gain or (unfairly) to denigrate social groups. This book should open our minds to the richness of language in all of its forms, and to the people who speak it in ways different from our own. Those who read it are taking a step towards healthier discourse and a more meritocratic world.
I teach writing part time at a local college. And before retiring and taking up this job in Miami with its vast population of ESL speakers, I taught high school English. And I recoiled at the misuse of so-called grammar books by far too many of my colleagues. (By the way, the best grammar book out there isn't one. But should be: "Woe Is I" by Patricia O'Conner with its simple, humorous direct approach including "comma sultra.") And this amazing work by Robert Lane Greene only confirms what I know, except not with his knowledge, about the way language evolves. I cringe at all the hyped-up media rhetoric about Hispanics taking over. In my opinion they add to the flavor of a mixture of their language with mine, which is English.
But--note that I have begun this sentence with a no-no in the eyes of some--what I have to deal with in my classes are the absolutely stupid number of "rules" these new-to-English speakers have learned. They have to wade through six thick workbooks of English grammar rules, many of which quite simply have absolutely nothing to do with how we speak and write our language when we write and speak it well. And I am one of those who is only too delighted to have "whom" take its place in the repository of words we simply do not need.
All of this is to say that if you are looking for a book that really gets into the substance of how languages have formed and how they work, they don't hesitate any longer.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Robert Lane Green, has written a fascinating diatribe about language and our language prejudices. He enlivens the story with anecdotes of his own experiences. Read morePublished 12 months ago by DJ Arboretum
This was a fascinating foray into linguistics and the often politically charged ulterior motives of 'grammar grouches' / defenders of the standardized mother tongue. Read morePublished 14 months ago by KNoelle
Wittily written and filled with wonderfully diverse examples. Greene presents well reasoned arguments and is easy to like. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Nick Akst
Definitely too pricey for a poorly written book. Does not spark my interest and note that I am very easily fascinated by by every aspect of language. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Htaik Khamom
This book is awesome. It explains, in a humorous and entertaining way, why English teachers and their types are so uptight and wrong about everything. Read morePublished on April 11, 2014 by K. Colombo
Why is it when a progressive writes a book on language or anything else for that matter, he/she must feel like he must do so in a condescending and flagrantly pedantic manner. Read morePublished on April 5, 2014 by derek kanady
This is one of those rare armchair linguist books that truly does its topic justice, without devolving into a pop culture rant. The style is engaging and accessible. Read morePublished on December 29, 2013 by Gringo Ric
Nothing to write home about: glib, self conscious, hackneyed, repetitive, flawed, excessive, above all: boring...!!! Read morePublished on October 7, 2013 by Antony Panagopoulos