Fantasist's Scroll

Fun, Fiction and Strange Things from the Desk of the Fantasist.

11/22/2003

Review of The Power of Babel

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I finished The Power of Babel by John McWhorter this past week.

And, it was pretty damn good! Okay, allowing for the fact that I’m interested in linguistics and history and historical linguistics, it’s still a good book. As my be guessed from that last sentence, The Power of Babel is about the history of language. Not a language, but all of them. Mr. McWhorter effectively uses examples from numerous languages from every continent and cultural region I can think of that has language.
In the very first chapter he outlines the five basic ways that language changes and then sets out to describe them in the subsequent chapters. I think he does and well enough that a rough, amatuer linguist like me can really understand what he’s saying. He even has a whole, thick, meaty chapter dedicated to pidgins and creoles, which is a subject that fascinates me. He talks about the social and economic pressures that drive language change, which I thought was quite insightful.

Now, I have to admit, I got this book with the sole purpose of getting ideas for conlanging. I was not dissapointed! The linguistic ideas came hot and heavy. Everything got touched on in this book: grammar, phonology, morphology and how they all alter over time. I have to say that I liked this even better than the Language Instinct, which was a very good book.
If you have even a passing interest in historical linguistics, buy this book and read it!

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