You Are What You Speak in the Seattle Times

April 29, 2011

"If you like language, and aren’t a snob about it, you might want to read Robert Lane Greene’s new book.

It’s titled ‘You Are What You Speak.’ I read it last month and get reminded of it every day by examples of one of his recurring themes, how strident we can be in constructing and protecting our identities."

Read the rest of the column by Jerry Large.

More Intelligent Life, “Nerds and nags”

April 25, 2011

"I’ve long been the office language nerd. This isn’t a terribly distinguished position. Every office has at least one person who proof-reads with extra zeal, striking out "between you and I" with three slashes of the pen rather than the requisite one. After establishing a reputation, this stickler becomes someone colleagues timidly ask, “Can you check this…?" before sending out a note to clients. Flattered as "our office language expert" when in earshot, this chap swiftly becomes "the local grammar Nazi" when out of sight.
But I’ve changed over the years…" 

Read more about how I’ve learned to disappoint people by telling them there often is no hard-and-fast rule to answer language questions because of the nature of language itself.

Language and the mind

April 20, 2011

Over at The Browser, I recommend five very different books on language and the mind: on the language instinct, linguistic relativity, evolution of language, artificial languages and bilingual fiction writers.

You Are What You Speak on WLRN’s “Topical Currents”

April 19, 2011

Some minor technical problems notwithstanding, I  had a great conversation yesterday with Joseph Cooper of South Florida’s WLRN on the "Topical Currents" program. Seems like Mr. Cooper gave the book a close read: I got rare but welcome questions on Nicaraguan Sign Language, the partitions of Yugoslavia and India and a few other topics that don’t make the book flap, but which are at the heart of the story.

The Economist, “Babel or babble?”

April 15, 2011

 Languages all have their roots in the same part of the world. But they are not as similar to each other as was once thought

 “WHERE do languages come from? That is a question as old as human beings’ ability to pose it. But it has two sorts of answer. The first is evolutionary: when and where human banter was first heard. The second is ontological: how an individual human acquires the power of speech and understanding. This week, by a neat coincidence, has seen the publication of papers addressing both of these conundrums

“Oprima dos para español”

PRI’s Patrick Cox, the US English people and I talk about “English Only” laws in America. The short version from my point of view: don’t worry about the immigrants who don’t learn English – pay attention to their kids, who do, and their grandkids, who almost never even learn the grandparents’ language.

“Three Books For The Grammar Lover In Your Life” at

April 13, 2011

I have been asked countless times, since the book came out, “But don’t we need some rules?” Of course we do. My knock on “grammar grouches” is about the “grouch” part, not the grammar part. So over at I recommend three books for the stickler in your life, including H.W. Fowler’s wonderful Dictionary of Modern English Usage.

New York Times “Editors’ Choice”

April 10, 2011

You Are What You Speak makes the book review’s list of recently reviewed books of particular interest.

The World in Words: “From Cicero to Lynne Truss with Robert Lane Greene”

April 8, 2011

Patrick Cox hosts a podcast called “The World in Words“, surely one of the best places anywhere you can find regular high-quality content on language. We had a fantastic conversation which is archived here.

You Are What You Speak in the New York Times Book Review

April 3, 2011

“People who readily accept the principles of modern economics, psychology and biology still cling to notions about language that are as antiquated as a belief in physi­ocracy or leeching…Greene makes it his business to dispel popular misconceptions, large and small.” Read the whole review, by Geoffrey Nunberg, here.