SPOKEN HERE: Travels Among Threatened Languages

Mark Abley, Author . Houghton Mifflin $24 (322p) ISBN 978-0-618-23649-7

There are roughly 6,000 languages in use in the world today, most of them spoken by a tiny number of people—further proof of humanity's ability to generate intoxicating variety. Sadly, the processes of linguistic imperialism may still be as strong as they have ever been; expansion of the major world languages, particularly English, is, according to Abley, likely to bring about the elimination of most of these languages by century's end. Canadian journalist Abley shrewdly frontloads his book with some of the most exotic languages before moving on to better-known cases (which are also considerably less at risk) such as Provençal, Yiddish and Welsh. Readers who think they "get" how languages work may be startled by the considerable deviation from Western norms: for instance, Murrinh-Patha, spoken in Australia, boasts a bewilderingly complex system of pronouns; Mi'kmaq, from eastern Canada and Maine, and Boro, a northern Indian tongue, all but eschew nouns. To read these accounts of dwindling languages—and their often forlorn, marginalized speakers—is to gain insight into the powerful colonial forces still in play. Abley's informal approach makes this more a travel book than a language book; while describing the people and places in affecting detail, he sometimes stints in depicting the languages. Abley also sometimes conflates the extinction of a language with that of the people who speak it; however, his contention rings true that the disappearance of these languages represents "a loss beyond estimation." This generous, sorrow-tinged book is an informative and eloquent reminder of a richness that may not exist much longer. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 06/02/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Show other formats
FORMATS
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-0-434-01153-7
Paperback - 322 pages - 978-0-618-56583-2
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-679-31199-7
Hardcover - 322 pages - 978-0-679-31101-0
Paperback - 322 pages - 978-0-09-946022-0
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4464-1045-5
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email pw@pubservice.com with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.