Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Way We Talk Now

Geoffrey Nunberg's short commentaries on NPR's "Fresh Air," 1989-2000, collected into essays on language.

These are light comments, the sort you might expect to come up in conversation among friends of an evening - if one of your friends is a linguist. Some predictable items which linguists often bring out are here: that pedantry in grammar is a mark of a particular culture and cast of mind, not of education and refinement; that language change is inevitable, and not always a deterioration; and dispelling a few urban legends about language.

But the curiosities of language are so great that there is always something new to unearth. English is the only language with a word for the concept "lap," as in what a baby sits on. "Suburb" does not mean to the younger generation what it does to their parents and grandparents. The internet has brought back exactness in spelling, at least for url's. I love that stuff, and it sticks in my head forever.

When Nunberg tries to draw deeper cultural conclusions from this, he is less successful. Unexamined assumptions - and those entirely predictable for a voice from NPR - jut out from time-to-time. But if you like to have just the curious data provided, drawing cultural conclusions for yourself, the book is quite good.

3 comments:

Andrea said...

Lap = fang
Suburb = forstad

This is not a lingvistblog I guess.
More like a leftwing marxist deconstruction disinfosite kind of thing?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Read more closely.

tim said...

has your linguistic studies brought you into hermeneutics at all? I read Truth and Method this year by Hans Georg Gadamer. Great phenomonological descriptions of conversation and theory on human consciousness as linguistically mediated historically affected consciousness. interesting implications for the change in understanding of regularly used words. Also means Luther's Sola Scriptura stuff is a load of crap.