Staying Up Late

This is how not on the cutting edge of the trendy gay urban lifestyle I am - I was kept up late last night by, of all things, a book. And I love it - finding a book that you just don't want to put down is one of life's fantastic pleasures. In this case, the book is The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter.

Now, I'm the kind of person who would sit around all day studying languages if he won the lottery. I don't know what the right hankie code for linguistics is, but I'd be flagging it on the left AND right if there were one. So I sat there on the couch turning pages till way past my bedtime, and then overslept today.

I'm going to comment on it more in Shelf Space but meanwhile, I'm totally absorbed. The book isn't the traditional kind of language history (there was an original language, from that came the major groups like Indo-European, Uralic, etc., on down to today). Instead McWhorter looks at the mechanisms by which languages "drift" and combine with neighboring languages to become something new - and along the way raises questions about whether "language" as we think of it makes sense, arguing that what we've got in the world today is more a dizzying set of dialects that we bundle into "languagues" out of convenience (and often due more to political than liguistic considerations).

Oh, and you find out why the Scots are so hard to understand.

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