By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws and the Power of Words
By Robert Lane Greene (Black Inc., $24.95, softcover, 312 pages)
The use of language is constantly evolving, but here is one global investigation that illuminates the rewards of being flexible with our words.
“Yesterday’s abomination is today’s rule,” but Greene makes it a priority to disperse falsehoods of any description.
Speaking nine languages, communicating with words has become something of a ‘calling card’ for him.
Explaining with the “outward sheepishness and inner pride of the nerd”, Greene has “internalized the stickler’s code: big words are better than plain ones and grammatical mistakes are shoddy habits”.
Language is about communication, not just words and rules. He pokes gentle fun, particularly at the “sticklers”, who see “linguistic incompetence everywhere”.
Join the ride as Greene contests the rhetoric of Lynne Truss’s best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves, amends Bill Bryson’s “facts” about words and elucidates why speech is a lot like jazz.
The world-wind tour highlights the role language beliefs play in shaping our identities. Shrewd in analysis, one gets a clear picture of the day-to-day speech that’s entangled in the complex web of history, economics, politics, race and power.
You Are What You Speak is a scholarly survey: from the Tower of Babel to Atatürk’s banning of Arabic script, he charts how language “experts” moved from myth-making to rule-making and from building cohesive communities to building modern nations.
Greene is engaging and committed, shattering myths and pomposity surrounding the use of our language. He discovers its fascinating variety “not as a problem but as a treasure”.
This is an engrossing insight—a comprehensible assessment—into the global politics of speech diversity that engages you from the first page.
“Language is a powerful marketer of our identity; our social group our class and our nation.”
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.