cover image The Fall of Language in the Age of English

The Fall of Language in the Age of English

Minae Mizumura, trans. from the Japanese by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter. Columbia Univ., $35 (256p) ISBN 978-0-231-16302-6

A bestselling sensation in Japan, this erudite but accessible volume from novelist Mizumura (A True Novel) functions as a stirring call to consciousness about the role of language. Originally focused on concerns particular to Mizumura’s native Japan, the book has been revised and translated with an eye to reaching a broader audience. This is either apt or ironic, considering its main concern is with the fate of national languages at a time when English has become the world’s dominant “universal” language. To explore the subject, Mizumura offers a collection of smartly written meditations, history lessons, and theories about language. She also delves into autobiography to illustrate how her thinking was formed: after living in the United States for 20 years from the age of 12, without ever feeling completely at home there or with English, she first studied French and then moved back to Japan to write in her first language. Though less concerned than the original version with threats posed to the Japanese language by English’s ubiquity, this translation still depicts the country’s linguistic and literary heritage with mesmerizing vividness. For English speakers, the book presents an important opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes. [em](Jan.) [/em]