The Linguist

The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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@Linguist_CIOL FEBRUARY/MARCH The Linguist 29 Language Unlimited David Adger Language Unlimited covers a whole range of linguistic curiosities, including how to create a new language such as Parseltongue or Klingon, and whether or not robots can communicate with each other without humans knowing (probably not – at the moment). There is also a plethora of examples drawn from genuine languages, with a clear preference for Amerindian languages as diverse as Cherokee and Quechua. All of this takes the reader well beyond standard explanations of how language is structured and on to moods that may not be instantly recognisable, such as the Mirative. A key area of discussion revolves around where in the brain language originates from, drawing heavily on Noam Chomsky's concept of Universal Language. Case studies of small children who have developed forms of communication within their own families, despite having a hearing impairment, illustrate a phenomenon called homesigning, which suggests that the ability to create linguistic structures is innate in the human brain. The development of creoles might have been included here, but there is an interesting case study of young people in the London Borough of Hackney, who appear to have developed their own modified forms of grammar which are not heard even a few miles away. There is no mention, however, of a process of simplification that seems to be taking place in everyday English, whereby the pluperfect has been falling out of use. Language Unlimited: The science behind our most creative power reads less like a textbook and more like an introduction to human communication in all its varied forms, although it does go into some detail about primates and the case of Kanzi the bonobo, who could apparently use several hundred signs drawn from American Sign Language. She seems to be in good company, as you can also see Alex, Koko, Ndume and Nim Chimpsky performing on Google. The whole book is based on years of lecturing, so it maintains a very readable and accessible style throughout, and is infectious in its enthusiasm for the subject. Tim Connell FCIL Oxford University Press 2019, 264 pp; ISBN 978-019882809 Hardback £20 "THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT LANGUAGE? THINK AGAIN" clamours the cover of Don't Believe a Word: The surprising truth about language. A case of getting your defence in first perhaps. The author, a linguistics-trained writer for The Guardian, picks nine aspects of language for examination, including etymology, translation, pragmatics, creoles and Universal Grammar. Each one is depicted in terms of how the general reader, interested in language, might understand the matter, followed by how – depending on straw man availability – such a depiction is broadened, disputed or even lambasted by the experts. The social lexicon changes over time. The Norman invasion ushered in French and the Renaissance rendered English still more Latinate. Had history taken a different course, however, English/Anglish might have developed thus: "The firststuffs have their being as motes called unclefts… Most unclefts link together to make what are called bulkbits" (where 'uncleft(ish') = 'atom(ic)'; 'beholding' = 'theory'; 'firststuffs' = 'elements'; and 'bulkbits' = 'molecules'), according to Poul Anderson in his text 'Uncleftish Beholding'. Etymology reveals a word's DNA. For many people this is their entry level to studying linguistics. Strange, then, that the author calls it the domain of "hobbyists and pedants". Common cross-cultural concepts (e.g. 'table', 'house', 'mother') translate directly from one language to another. The less common the concept, the greater the possibility of encountering the likes of the Danish word hygge – i.e. words for which English has no shorthand translation. No one-word answers, rather pen pictures. The Sapir-Whorf, or linguistic-determinism, hypothesis offers an explanation for this. Your language is a prism through which you view the world and which may control how you name aspects of colour, movement and time, as well as sensations and social situations. We accept the differences in learning a new language. We may even marvel at its 'alterity'. What we may not do, to remain in David Shariatmadari's good books, is to "exoticise" the language. The book concludes with an even-handed review of current thinking on Chomsky. The writer of The Language Instinct, Stephen Pinker, said that Chomsky updates his theory periodically so as not to remain "a sitting target". The updated language faculty argument states that higher mammals may share a (broad) part of this with humans, while we have sole domain over the (narrow) part which allows us to make an infinite range of utterances from a finite computational system. Debate continues over the extent to which babies and young children acquire language using a Universal Grammar, and not through exposure to adult language (corpus research suggests that spoken input demonstrates greater sophistication than was suggested by Chomsky). I learnt much from this book and would have enjoyed the experience more had there been fewer overtly partisan sentiments expressed in it. Graham Elliott MCIL Don't Believe a Word David Shariatmadari Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2019, 336 pp; ISBN 978- 1474608435 Paperback £8.99 REVIEWS

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