cover image Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation

Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation

Michael Agar. William Morrow & Company, $22 (284pp) ISBN 978-0-688-12399-4

Agar, an anthropologist and ethnographer, wants Americans to break out of their cultural superiority complex and to join ``the growing global conversation'' embracing multicultural voices. Leaning on linguist Benjamin Whorf's theory that each language shapes its speakers' ways of seeing, acting, thinking and feeling, Agar relates personal encounters with language and cultural differences, drawing on his stay in Austria during the Kurt Waldheim Nazi scandal in 1986, his work as a public health official treating heroin addicts in Kentucky in 1968, travels in Mexico and Greece and village kinship systems in India. The informal, highly anecdotal narrative sketches a theory of ``languaculture,'' Agar's coinage emphasizing the inextricable links between language and culture and the way we build mental ``frames'' to organize our expectations. Agar, who teaches anthropology at the University of Maryland, serves a smorgasbord with tasty tidbits instead of a full meal. (May)