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Language Shock: Understanding The Culture Of Conversation

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  173 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
The key to communication, says linguistic anthropologist Michael Agar, is understanding the context and culture of conversation. In Language Shock, Agar reveals how deeply our language and cultural values intertwine to define who we are and how we relate to one another. From paying an electric bill in Austria to opening a bank account in Mexico to handling a parking ticket ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 16th 1996 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published May 1994)
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Jun 25, 2008 Trena rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Narrow-minded xenophobes who are looking to expand their horizons; in other words, nobody
I expected this to be an interesting book about the intersection between linguistics and sociology/anthropology. It is, sort of, but only to the extent that the entire thesis of the book is that there *is* an intersection, which is kind of a duh that doesn't need proving.

It took the author 100 pages to make the point that conversation is different from grammar. Seriously. That's as far as he got in 100 pages. I am not going to read any further to find out what shocking truth he will reveal in th
This book and I didn't get off to a good start. In the end, I still didn't like the book very much, but at least I don't hate it as much as most of my fellow students seem to do.

This book is supposed to be an overview of the history of anthropology, and other fields of study that have influenced it (like linguistics, sociology, etc.). Agar mentions interesting studies, but overall the book is hardly scientific (e.g. no sources mentioned). It puzzles me that one of the supposedly most difficult c
Jan Leent
Oct 07, 2014 Jan Leent rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature, sociology
Michael Agar shows in his book "Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation" the interaction between language, culture and daily behaviour for insiders and outsiders. Insiders know implicit (and explicit) the meaning behind words and sentences that outsiders with only knowledge of a language may not be aware of. He shares his open mind for several environments/cultures wherein he has lived. He makes a strong plea for open mindedness to a foreign cultures otherwise unknown/uncommon ...more
Sep 21, 2011 Frankie rated it liked it
Shelves: linguistics
Honestly, I would've given this 4 stars if I'd read it before other linguist texts. It's a good start for linguists, and teaches you some memorable rules about observation. Agar writes this at an elementary level that anyone can understand, which is good in some ways. The repetitions, coined and unusually-melded terms, and long rhetorical lectures, however, are excessive to even an amateur linguist reader. When I picked this book up, I expected it to be a focus on discourse and speech as it diff ...more
Apr 27, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing
This is a book to which I've returned on several occasions since first reading it 15 years ago. Michael Agar explains with accessible and insightful metaphors and anecdotes how the words we acquire help define how we relate to the world, how culture and language are intertwined in what he calls a "languaculture."
One of the purposes of the book is to help show how it is possible to understand the differences in perception within our own culture, how a white professor from a small town could see
Oct 10, 2012 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Agar can help you to refine and re-define how you understand those big, high-order abstractions, 'language' and 'culture'. Is 'language' one 'thing' and 'culture' another 'thing', that you can separate and isolate from one another? How do linguistic anthropologists like Agar understand this? Hint: In this book, Agar coined a new word: 'languaculture'. (I'd prefer spelling it with a hyphen: 'langua-culture'.) He gets into the nitty-gritty of human behavior, and keeps it lively as well as informat ...more
Sep 06, 2015 Alexander rated it it was amazing
This is a book I wish I had read twenty years ago.
The book is a wonderful introduction to anthropological linguistics. I confess that I was familiar with some of the ideas in the first half. But as I read it, I began to enjoy it more as it answered questions I did not know how to ask but needed to know the answer to. The more I read, the more I enjoyed it. I found myself chuckling with pleasure thru out the latter part of the book. I loved it and my list of books I want to get to just grew expon
Dec 09, 2010 Ellen rated it really liked it
An ethnographer's point of view: what is language and what is culture? This is fascinating to me. This author really examines interactions between individuals who speak the same language but have differences in culture that are only revealed through relationship and interactions between individuals who do not speak the same language. The style is not academic, but narrative, with humility and humor.
Aisyah Novanarima
Jul 29, 2014 Aisyah Novanarima rated it liked it
If you're an English as a second language speaker with a big love for semantics, word origin and the related areas, this book's not to miss! Another thing not to miss, never expect you'd easily copypaste some technical term for your academic paper
Jun 24, 2009 secondwomn rated it liked it
for my language & culture course. jokey tone, nice ideas, some weird vocabulary choices -- sometimes putting things in plain english ends up sounding super weird. probably not a book i'd ever read again, but it was engaging.
Jamie Barnes
Not much revolutionary here: Author believes languages must be seen from within frames (family, neighborhood, prevailing culture, religion, etc. What's fun are the examples he uses. He also writes engagingly but everything considered not a must-read.
Mar 23, 2010 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, must-buy
I loved reading about Schmah, and about how what people would define lies as is not really what they are. Excellent book!!
May 11, 2011 Jen rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this. A light and lively read--also a fantastic intro to cultural linquistics.
Sep 22, 2009 Margaret is currently reading it
BLOW your mind. read this. for all this at ONCE. linguists as well.
Apr 05, 2015 Jill rated it liked it
Shelves: own
I read this for a class. Wow, I haven't said that in a few decades.
Katherine Martin
Nov 03, 2016 Katherine Martin rated it really liked it
This is a super interesting read for anyone that is interested in language and culture. It is a bit ambiguous, but so are the subject areas being discussed. Definitely worth the time and effort.
Oct 11, 2009 Mel rated it did not like it
Shelves: waste-of-my-time
I guess I can't really say that I "read" this book because I never made it past the first chapter. The guy just never seems to be able to get to the point of what he's trying to say.
John Spiri
Feb 26, 2014 John Spiri rated it liked it
A lot of interesting sections in this book. I recommend it.
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