February 7, 2011

You Are What You SpeakAn Editors’ Choice in the New York Times Book Review

"A flinty, fact-packed fun-house of a book" – John McWhorter, author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue and Losing the Race, from the Foreword.

"An engaging new look at our language and the way people use it, filled with insight and informative tidbits." – Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of The Language Instinct, Words and Rules, and The Stuff of Thought

“A very readable survey of all the ways our received ideas about language can lead us astray… Greene makes it his business to dispel popular misconceptions, large and small… [and] comes into his own in his knowledgeable discussion of the politics of language.”New York Times

You Are What You Speak "Digs beneath the surface of our reflexive scolding of any speech that defies the English 101 we learned back in high school."Chicago Tribune

"When it comes to language, irrational passion is unfortunately much more common than true love. This smart and clear-eyed tour of language attitudes around the world will show you how to love language the right way." – Arika Okrent, author of In the Land of Invented Languages You Are What You Speak

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

"Happily, for those who do not have the spittle of rage on their lips, Mr. Greene is a thoughtful and reasonable exponent of sensible information about language." – John McIntyre, Baltimore Sun

"[Greene] has the journalist’s knack for the pithy and memorable line, combined with an admirable respect for the messy and endlessly disputed nature of the human world. I hope the book sells like hotcakes and stays in print forever, so I can go on recommending it to anyone who wants to know how to think about language." – Stephen Dodson,  "Language Hat" and author of ""

"Blends personal narrative, reportage and humor with linguistic analysis, historical research and political punditry… An insightful, accessible examination of the way in which day-to-day speech is tangled in a complicated web of history, politics, race, economics and power."Kirkus Reviews

"In the parade of books offering guidance on writing, journalist Greene marches against the traffic. He tackles touchy questions, ultimately asking ‘Who has the most power to shape language, namely the linguist, politician, celebrity, teacher or parent?’ Drawing on his own training in politics, sociology, and nine languages, Greene presents abundant examples of ‘language police’ efforts, consistently demonstrating political and economic motivations."Library Journal

From the publisher: What is it about other people’s language that moves some of us to anxiety or even rage? For centuries, sticklers the world over have donned the cloak of authority to control the way people use words. Now this sensational new book strikes back to defend the fascinating, real-life diversity of this most basic human faculty. With the erudite yet accessible style that marks his work as a journalist, Robert Lane Greene takes readers on a rollicking tour around the world, illustrating with vivid anecdotes the role language beliefs play in shaping our identities, for good and ill.  Beginning with literal myths, from the Tower of Babel to the bloody origins of the word “shibboleth,” Greene shows how language “experts” went from myth-making to rule-making and from building cohesive communities to building modern nations. From the notion of one language’s superiority to the common perception that phrases like “It’s me” are “bad English,” linguistic beliefs too often define “us” and distance “them,” supporting class, ethnic, or national prejudices. In short: What we hear about language is often really about the politics of identity.

Governments foolishly try to police language development (the French Academy), nationalism leads to the violent suppression of minority languages (Kurdish and Basque), and even Americans fear that the most successful language in world history (English) may be threatened by increased immigration. These false language beliefs are often tied to harmful political ends and can lead to the violation of basic human rights. Conversely, political involvement in language can sometimes prove beneficial, as with the Zionist revival of Hebrew or our present-day efforts to provide education in foreign languages essential to business, diplomacy, and intelligence. And yes, standardized languages play a crucial role in uniting modern societies.

As this fascinating book shows, everything we’ve been taught to think about language may not be wrong—but it is often about something more than language alone. You Are What You Speak will certainly get people talking.

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