Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America’s Languages

Elizabeth Little, Author
Elizabeth Little. Bloomsbury, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-59691-656-2
Reviewed on: 01/16/2012
Release date: 03/27/2012
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-60819-829-0
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-1-62040-011-1
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As much a travelogue as a linguistic field log, Little (Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic) regales readers with her two-year odyssey crisscrossing the United States exploring the relationship between language and the American experience. A self-professed linguaphile, Little examines language communities, such as the Gullah speakers of South Carolina, and their relationship to English, a tongue she admits she considered boring. Some of her most interesting, and sobering, stops are in reservation towns, where she discovers the steady decline of Native languages among the Crow and Navajo. Little also touches down in New Orleans and the surrounding towns to investigate the nature of Creole and the origins of “picayune.” And she stops in Elko, Nev., home to a surprisingly vibrant Basque community. In the end, Little highlights the sad irony that America, whose history of immigration has given it a rich linguistic diversity, is also a place of “language loss,” which she attributes to discrimination rather than, in at least some cases, a genuine desire to assimilate. Still, this is fascinating for the linguistically inclined and for those interested in how our history is reflected in the words we speak. (Apr.)
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