frayadjacent: Rona from Buffy, text says, "haters gonna make some good points" (haters gonna make good points)
[personal profile] frayadjacent
What did you recently finish reading?

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: the Untold Story of English audiobook, written and read by John McWhorter. This was mostly an interesting and engaging book. He focuses on changes in English's grammar, which he argues (and I agree) is a lot more interesting than just word etymologies, and specifically looks at how encounters with other languages changed English. First when the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes came to Britain and had their language changed by the Celts. Then the Vikings came and brought a language that was similar to proto-English, but not the same, and what emerged was simpler than either, in a least-common-denominator sort of way. He argues that the Normans had little influence on English grammar because French was the language of the ruling class and only spoken by a tiny minority (and not for very long). In the last chapter, he speculates on the possible influence of Semitic languages on proto-Germanic to account for the differences between Germanic languages and other Indo-European ones. That hypothesis really is just a hypothesis, without enough evidence to support it fully, but it's interesting nonetheless.

As interesting as the story of English itself was the insight I got into the methods that linguists use to trace how languages have changed. McWhorter also discussed how those methods can lead linguists astray -- for example, by assuming that changes in spoken language are mirrored by changes in written language, which isn't even true for all languages now, much less at a time and place where most people were illiterate.

He also had a chapter debunking the Sapir-Worf hypotesis (of Arrival fame), but I'd already heard and been convinced by that argument in his podcast, so it was the least interesting chapter to me. I get the impression that the Sapir-Worf hypothesis is to linguistics as the Gulf Stream* is to climate science -- its importance is vastly overstated in popular literature, media, and even some introductory textbooks, much to the chagrin of experts.

I like McWhorter's writing and narrating style, and he has a very pleasant voice to boot. The book gets a bit dry at times when he is describing conjugations etc, but those times are brief.


What are you reading now?

Ninefox Gambt, by Yoon Ha Lee. This is working much better for me now than last week. First, I followed [personal profile] isis's suggestion and stopped to read this short story prequel first, which helped me make sense of the world a bit. Second, I realised that the word "calendar" is actually used in more or less the usual sense, to mean tracking time and noting dates -- at first I was convinced it had to mean something totally different and unfamiliar, because it was being used *so weirdly*. Third, I realised that I needed to stop approaching this story like hard sci-fi and start approaching it like fantasy -- I needed to just accept the magical tech rather than hurt my head trying to make some sense it. In a way, it's almost the inverse of the Steerswoman books.

What will you read next?

I'm gonna catch up on some podcasts and then choose my next audiobook. I'm thinking one of the Great Courses history series, but I'm choosing from a few.

* 1) the Gulf Stream is not the main reason why Northern Europe is warm -- the Atlantic Ocean generally is the first reason, and, interestingly, the Rocky Mountains are the second. 2) even if the thermohaline circulation were shut down a la The Day After Tomorrow, the Gulf Stream would still be there, because it's driven by winds which exist because the Earth rotates and the sun shines more on the tropics than the poles -- global warming isn't going to change that fact.

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frayadjacent: Buffy looking to the side in black and white (Default)
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