The Power of Babel

The Power of Babel

A Natural History of Language

Book - 2001
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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 popularperception, language is not immutable and hidebound, but a living, dynamic entity that adapts itself to an ever-changing human environment.
Full of humor and imaginative insight, The Power of Babel draws its examples from languages around the world, including pidgins, creoles, patois and nonstandard dialects. McWhorter also discusses current theories on what the first language might have been like, why dialects should not be considered "bad speech" and why most of today's languages will be extinct in 100 years.
The first book written for the layperson about the natural history of language, Power of Babel is a dazzling tour de force that will leave readers anything but speechless.
Publisher: New York : Times Books/Henry Holt, 2001
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780716744733
Branch Call Number: Literature 417.7 McW


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Samuel A Marcum Jul 09, 2012

I picked this book up because I have a passing interest in language. I'm not an language academic by any means, so my perception might be scewed.

I did find the book utterly fascinating at parts, but on the whole there was much of it that really bored me as well. I thought I'd be more interested than I actually was, which would be good if I were exploring language as a potential major or course of study. Having finished the book I do feel more well informed about langage formation - and there are some great conversational topics I can now speak to - but I wouldn't say this book provided any "great revelation" about language "powers" or "mastery" as the title might suggest.

3.5 of 5.


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