Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic

Elizabeth Little, Author
Elizabeth Little, Author . Melville $21.95 (180p) ISBN 978-1-933633-33-6
Reviewed on: 10/15/2007
Release date: 11/01/2007
Paperback - 186 pages - 978-0-385-52774-3
Paperback - 199 pages - 978-0-14-103644-1
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In her debut book, writer and editor Little searches in “linguistic nooks and crannies” for the “quirks, innovations and implausibilities of the world’s languages,” threading witty pop culture references through tapestries of language trivia written with the not-so-linguistic reader in mind. (The title refers to the mistranslation in Chinese of “Coca-Cola.”) Little strips linguistics of its academic drudgery, showing how the Tangut language uses verbs by translating phrases like Johnny Cash’s lyric “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”; referring to pop-culture icons like Al Gore, Jabba the Hutt and the Smurfs to get the point across; and covering every language from Yoruba, a West African language, to the verbless Kelen, invented as an experiment by a Berkeley undergraduate. The book contains charming anecdotes, witty sidebars, attractive illustrations (by Ayumi Piland) and comprehensive linguistics lessons on topics ranging from the well-known (“Verbs conjugate, nouns decline”) to the obscure (the disjunctive adjective: “The most infamous English example is 'hopefully,’ that famed bête noir of addled prescriptionist fussbudgets”). Little’s strong sense of humor never overwhelms her love of languages in this fascinating yet educational introduction to linguistics for a wide, pop-savvy audience. (Dec.)

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