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The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language Paperback – January 1, 2003
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About the Author
John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of The Word on the Street. He lives in Oakland, California.
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Softcover Edition (January 1, 2003)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 006052085X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060520854
- Item Weight : 9.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.79 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #37,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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My unseen mentor became Mario Pei, who understood as I did that a true master of any craft can teach complex concepts with imaginative simplicity and metaphor without any condescension of superiority.
It is frustrating when you discover someone like John McWhorter: a person I wish to have met in youth since he shared all my interests.
Nonetheless, as Carl Sagan made science entertaining and accessible - a role now fulfilled by Neil deGrasse Tyson - John McWhorter (in my opinion) is the perfect successor after the loss of Mario Pei. He does not adhere to the orthodoxy of the intelligentsia (1st person I read who agreed with the Celtic influence on English and the importance of slang and creoles).
His personality engages the listener with a self-deprecating humor, charming and funny. The best review I might leave is that I hope his legacy is as respected as Mr. Pei's.
It isn't that what is presented is uninteresting. Language, he says, is a bundle of dialects, always evolving, absorbing, transforming, and dying. He gets into many of the causes of this, such as proximity, war, the necessity to adopt a language for reasons of prosperity, status or power. He also examines, in a rather disorganized way, the mechanisms involved. Once written down, languages tend to get frozen in standards that create their own possibilities of evolution. There are many fascinating facts, such as that the vocabulary of English is 99% foreign words, but the 1% that survives from Anglo-Saxon represents fully 60% of the words we use in everyday speech.
My problem is that none of this stretched my mind with new concepts. Instead it filled factual gaps in my knowledge and got into a lot of detail that - as a non-academic linguistics enthusiast - I knew I would forget and didn't care to remember.
The book is also dated in that it was written before the internet and social media became popular and indeed the principal media that many of us write in today.
Finally, there is a serious problem with the print quality. At a minimum, lettering is blurry, which is a constant annoyance - you can see the dots that make the letters, kind of smudgy in appearance. This renders all diagrams useless, i.e. impossible to read. I don't know, perhaps it was a cheap production, but the quality is simply unacceptable.
Taken together, I cannot recommend this book.
“Unfolding of Language” by Guy Deutscher is a far superior book in its organization and editing, covering the same topics but much more pleasurable to read.
While I enjoyed the book, I have two negative issues: first, the book is repetitive, repetitive, repetitive. The same points over and over again when it just wasn't necessary because the concepts are not that difficult. In addition, some of the examples used to were too detailed and too lengthy for the book's intended audience.
The second thing that I found a little annoying about the book is that it is filled with footnotes and asides that I'm sure the author meant to be entertaining, but they frequently came across as glib and self serving. It was as if the author was imitating David Foster Wallace - but the author is not David Foster Wallace.
All in all, it's a good book and worth reading, but if you stop reading after chapter 4 (about half way) you won't miss much.
Top reviews from other countries
Dieses Buch ist populärwissenschaftlich im besten Sinn und kann uneingeschränkt empfohlen werden.