A very entertaining series of anecdotes about scientists behaving badly. The author is trying to make a point as well, but I don't care. I simply founA very entertaining series of anecdotes about scientists behaving badly. The author is trying to make a point as well, but I don't care. I simply found the anecdotes entertaining. The biggest shock was that most of them were new to me. He even had stories to tell about Einstein that I hadn't heard before....more
I enjoy reading contemporary French SF, and like to occasionally dip into earlier works to see what they were like. Stefan Wul is best known to me asI enjoy reading contemporary French SF, and like to occasionally dip into earlier works to see what they were like. Stefan Wul is best known to me as the author of books that were made into the animated films "Fantastic Planet" and "Time Masters". There is good material in this book that could have served as the basis for a film just as weird and wonderful as those. But as a book, it is not as engaging.
Some spacemen from earth find themselves in a badly crashed rocket and gradually figure out where they are and try to save themselves. To accept the way they try to take control of the situation, it is necessary to suspend disbelief a bit too much. It is almost as if they say: "If we reverse the polarity on this toaster oven we can create a nuclear reactor that we can attach to this goldfish and it can swim us through space." (That is parody. I don't want to give away what they really do.) Even though the book sets you up for a twist ending, the actual twist ending is even weirder than you'd expect, and causes you to re-contextualize everything that came before.
I liked it well enough that I think I may try some of his other books later....more
Dull, dry and tedious, with more focus on ancient history than current events, and a conclusion that is not supported by the text.
In order to discussDull, dry and tedious, with more focus on ancient history than current events, and a conclusion that is not supported by the text.
In order to discuss the fate of English as a Lingua Franca, it makes sense to precisely define that term (which is done in the first few chapters) and it makes sense to study the fate of past lingua francas (which is done in most of the rest of the book.)
After that, one could make an intelligent argument about what might happen to English as a Lingua Franca in the future, based on what we can learn from the history of others. But that isn't what is in this book. The final conclusion is that machine translation, while not very good right now, will in the next 50 or 100 years make it unnecessary for anyone to speak in anything but their mother tongue.
To support that idea, you'd need to give evidence that the problems of machine translation and of computer parsing of natural speech are solvable problems. Maybe they are, but that isn't at all the sort of evidence presented. That conclusion just comes out of thin air after an unrelated lead-up.
I forced myself to read through long, tedious discussion of the history of wars and regimes in Persia and Africa, and discussion of Persian, Sogdian, Turkic languages with the belief that there would be some pay-off at the end of the book to make it worth my time. But there isn't one.
If you are interested in history for its own sake, this might be for you. But it has nothing much to say about the fate of English, and not much to say about language in general.
(Kudos to the editor and typesetter, though. There are so many different scripts in use, including ancient ones, and so many foreign words and names, that their tasks must have been quite difficult. And I have no doubt the author knows what he is talking about for the historical info.) ...more
I had to read this twice to understand it. Part of this was due to the fact that, as the author/illustrator admits, the characters look similar. In aI had to read this twice to understand it. Part of this was due to the fact that, as the author/illustrator admits, the characters look similar. In a story about a boy who sometimes dresses as a girl and a girl who sometimes dresses as a boy, the similar appearances of the characters can be quite a challenge. Another problem for me was the playful use of gender-related Japanese honorifics. There is a preface which explains how they are used, and why they were retained in the translation, but it took a while to get my head around it. Another issue is that Japanese storytelling conventions are different from what I'm used to. I kept feeling like I was missing something.
Despite all that, it is an interesting story and I would like to read further volumes. ...more
I read lots of books on language, so I keep seeing the same tired old examples brought out to illustrate language change. This one, though, is writtenI read lots of books on language, so I keep seeing the same tired old examples brought out to illustrate language change. This one, though, is written for a British audience, so while the ideas were not new to me, the examples often were. ("Damp Squi(b/d)" for example, must be a more common expression there than here!)
The main point of this book is to introduce to a wide audience the idea of using a digital corpus to examine how language is actually used in real life, rather than relying on examples found by experts.
A hard-core prescriptivist may not like the focus on "actual" rather than "correct" usage, but may still enjoy the introduction to using a corpus to explore usage changes.
The author talks a lot about how large the particular corpus he used was. Sure, it was big, but, they are growing all the time. Google's n-gram is the current size champ, and is available for anyone to explore. (I just used it now to see whether the spelling "alot" is on the rise or not. I like it better than the "correct" spelling. But n-gram shows that the use of that spelling is falling-off after a peak in the 1980s.) ...more