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The Power of Babel by John McWhorter: There are approximately 6000 languages on earth today, the descendants of the tongue first spoken by homo sapiens some 150,000 years ago. How did they all develop? What happened to the first language? In this irreverent romp through territory too often claimed by stodgy grammarians, McWhorter ranges across linguistic theory, geography, history, and pop culture to tell the fascinating story of how thousands of very different languages have evolved from a single, original source in a natural process similar to biological evolution. While laying out how languages mix and mutate over time, he reminds us of the variety within the species that speaks them, and argues that, contrary to popular perception, language is not immutable and hidebound, but a living, dynamic entity that adapts itself to an ever-changing human environment." (Catalog Summary")
If you like The Power of Babel by John McWhorter, you may also like these selections.
The Beginning of Language: Opposing Viewpoints by Clarice Swisher
Discusses historical, philosophical, and scientific theories about the mysterious origins of human language. (catalog summary)
Empires of the World: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler
Head of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, Ostler draws on his extensive study and research, mostly into now dead languages, to trace the history of the world's major languages. Language is always linked to a particular time and place, he says, but at the same time it is a unbroken link to all people in all times, and has played a larger role in history than any prince or economy. First he considers early languages that became dominant in certain areas or by migration, then more recent ones that have spread throughout the world by colonialism.(catalog summary)
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English - John McWhorter's other book, it's a "survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar Why do we say 'I am reading a catalog' instead of 'I read a catalog'? Why do we say 'do' at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values?" (catalog summary)
Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher
A masterpiece of linguistics scholarship, at once erudite and entertaining, confronts the thorny question of how--and whether--culture shapes language and language, culture. How languages deal with color is given particular emphasis. (catalog summary)
If you like to learn about word origins, we have some fascinating books:
History of the English Language by Seth Lerer
Essays, available at CRRL only on CD and audiocassette.
Horsefeathers, and Other Curious Words by Charles Earle Funk
A delightful, older etymological study.
Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O'Connor and Stewart Kellerman
This playfully witty yet rigorously researched book sets the record straight about bogus word origins, politically correct fictions, phony francais, fake acronyms, and more. English is an endlessly entertaining, ever-changing language, and yesterday's blooper could be tomorrow's bon mot-or vice versa! Here are some shockers: "They" was once commonly used for both singular and plural, much the way "you" is today. And an eighteenth-century female grammarian, of all people, is largely responsible for the all-purpose "he." The authors take us wherever myths lurk, from the Queen's English to street slang, from Miss Grundy's admonitions to four-letter unmentionables. This eye-opening romp will be the toast of grammarphiles and the salvation of grammarphobes. Take our word for it. (catalog summary)
The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English by Henry Hitchins
Words are essential to our everyday lives. An average person spends his or her day enveloped in conversations, e-mails, phone calls, text messages, directions, headlines, and more. But how often do we stop to think about the origins of the words we use? Have you ever thought about which words in English have been borrowed from Arabic, Dutch, or Portuguese? Try admiral , landscape, and marmalade, just for starters.
The Secret Life of Words is a wide-ranging account not only of the history of English language and vocabulary, but also of how words witness history, reflect social change, and remind us of our past. Henry Hitchings delves into the insatiable, ever-changing English language and reveals how and why it has absorbed words from more than 350 other languages--many originating from the most unlikely of places, such as shampoo from Hindi and kiosk from Turkish. From the Norman Conquest to the present day, Hitchings narrates the story of English as a living archive of our human experience. He uncovers the secrets behind everyday words and explores the surprising origins of our most commonplace expressions. The Secret Life of Words is a rich, lively celebration of the language and vocabulary that we too often take for granted. (catalog summary)
Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words by Phil Cousineau
Who knew that the great country of Canada is named for a mistake? How about "bedswerver," the best Elizabethan insult to hurl at a cheating boyfriend? By exploring the delightful back stories of the 250 words in Wordcatcher , readers are lured by language and entangled in etymologies. Author Phil Cousineau takes us on a tour into the obscure territory of word origins with great erudition and endearing curiosity. (catalog summary)
Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton
Do the Eskimos REALLY have 500 words for "snow"?
If you're looking for more in-depth coverage and like to read eBooks, here are a few suggestions, some academic, from our ebscohost collection:
The Talking Ape: How Language Evolved by Robbins Burling
Origins of Language: Constraints on Hypothesis by Sverker Johansson
Music and the Origins of Language: Theories from the French
Enlightenment by Downing A. Thomas
The Rise and Fall of Languages by R.M.W. Dixon
Historical Linguistics: An Introduction by Lyle Campbell
If you do not already have a netLibrary account with us, you may obtain one by following the directions on our website:
And here's my favorite book on words:
The Thinker's Thesaurus: Sophisticated Alternatives to Common Words by Peter E. Meltzer
It's a hoot!
Lastly, we have ordered two new videorecordings on the topic. Visit our catalog and place a hold on: