Posted: Jul 24, 2021 2:47 am
by don't get me started
1. Pragmatic Meaning and Cognition – Sophia S.A. Marmaridou
2. Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany and Japan - Randall Hansen
3. Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics – René Dirven and Marjolijn Verspoor (Eds.)
4. Age of Static: How TV Explains Modern Britain – Phil Harrison
5. The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating our Species and Making us Smarter – Joseph Henrich
6. Heroic Failure and the British - Stephanie Barczewski
7. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain - Maryanne Wolf
8. Language Soup: A Taste of How Diverse People Around the World Communicate - Kathryn A. T. Knox
9. A Place for everything: The curious History of Alphabetical order – Judith Flanders
10. Contrastive Analysis - Carl James
11. Impossible Languages- Andrea Moro
12. Languages in the World: How History, Culture and Politics Shape Language – Jukie tetel Andresen and Phillip M. Carter
13. HHhH - Laurent Binet (Translated from the French by Sam Taylor)
14. Impoliteness: Using Language to Cause Offense – Jonathan Culpeper
15. Ethosyntax: Explorations in Grammar and Culture – N. J. Enfield (Ed.)
16. Second Language Speech Fluency: From Research to Practice – Parvaneh Tavakoli & Clare Wright.
17. At Day's Close: Night in Times Past – A. Roger Ekirch
18. Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation – Michael Agar
19. Possessives in English: An Exploration in Cognitive Grammar - John R. Taylor
20. I saw the Dog: How Language Works – Alexandra Aikhenvald.
21. The German War: A Nation under Arms, 1939 – 1945 – Nicholas Stargardt
22. Civilizations – Laurent Binet
23. Adjective Classes: A Cross-linguistic Typology - R. M. W. Dixon & A. Aikhenvald (Eds.)

24. Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time – Johanna Nichols

358 pp.


A very technical and in-depth look at the ways that languages are distributed around the world and what the distribution tells us about the nature of language and languages.

The comparative method, which has yielded such good results with Indo-European can reach a time depth of about 7,000 years, but Nichols delves into other ways of looking at languages that give other insights.

‘It has often been pointed out that linguistic theory has been disproportionately affected by the structure of Indo-European languages spoken and studied by theoreticians […] on the assumption that the history of Indo-European was the paradigm example of linguistic history, there has been a strong tendency to approach all historical problems as problems in the structure and description of family trees, as well as a tendency to assume that the great majority of languages in any continent naturally go back to a single ancestor, just as the great majority of languages in western Eurasia do.” (p.280).

The author notes that there are certain cluster areas where great linguistic diversity exists- places like the Caucasus and New Guinea. It is not just the number of actual languages, but the number of language families that exist that is astonishing. The northern coast of the Mediterranean has just two language families- Indo-European and Turkic. A comparable stretch of Pacific North America or Papua New Guinea reveals a much wider range of language families- languages as different as Basque, Finnish, Russian, Hebrew all being spoken in a very small geographic area.

There was lots of focus on some pretty abstract linguistic concepts here- things like Head versus Dependent marking, ergativity, Inclusive/Exclusive pronouns, alienable and inalienable possession. Some of the technical stuff was a bit over my head, but there was also a lot of nice data. For example, English doesn’t really make a distinction between ‘my father’ and ‘my car’. Both are expressed with the same possession marker (John’s father, John’s car.) But many languages (especially in the Pacific and in North America have to show a distinction. One does not have a choice of having or not having a father, but one does have a choice in having a car. In Navaho there are three ways to say ‘Her milk’, differentiating between inalienable (Her breast milk.), Unspecified (someone/something’s milk), and alienable milk. – Her milk (that she bought in a store.) (pp. 120-121). It serves to remind us that when you step away from the familiar territory of your language and language family, you often come across things that are VERY different.

It is these radically different language systems that can inform us of all kinds of things about history and language spread.
Altogether a challenging but fascinating read. I can’t claim to have understood everything, but that’s kind of the point of choosing challenging books, right?

Image