kingshearte's Reviews > Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages

Spoken Here by Mark Abley
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Dec 11, 2009

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bookshelves: word-nerd-books, non-fiction
Read in September, 2007 — I own a copy

Spoken Here - Mark Abley

"In "Spoken Here," award-winning Canadian writer Mark Abley journeys from Australia to the Arctic seeking out languages in peril - Manx, Mohawk, Boro, Yiddish, and many more. He also visits places where the languages are fighting back - Wales, the Faeroe Islands, the Isle of Man - and charts the triumphant return of Hebrew, once reduced to a language of religious ceremony. While examining the forces that threaten rare languages, Abley reveals some delicious linguistic oddities, from the Amazonian language spoken only by a parrot to a Caucasian language with no vowels, and shows us all the world loses when a language dies out."

Interesting little book, although with less of a... thesis, I suppose one could say, than most non-fiction books. Abley doesn't really seem to set out with the intent of making or proving a point, as such, or even telling a story; it's more just an exploration of some of these languages. Which was kind of neat, and full of interesting little tidbits about some of them. Like the fact that in the Mati Ke (one of Australia's zillions of Aboriginal people) culture, siblings don't see each other after puberty. At all. Ever. Which means that pretty much the two remaining people who are fluent in the language can't get together and practice. Which is sad, but fascinating. And it's also kind of cool to see the resurgence of some of the languages, and the reasons for them - on the Isle of Man, it's a huge surge of international business that relies on the island being its own nation that has caused them to really embrace everything that makes them not British - like their language. Certain things were not as well though out as they could have been, though, maybe due to the lack of defined objective in writing the book. Things like when Abley contradicts himself, saying in one chapter that words sneaking in from other languages is the first sign of a dying language, and then later claiming that a language that doesn't borrow words is clearly on the verge of extinction. Really can't have it both ways (and, even before I got to the second statement, English itself proves the utter fallacy of the first). But generally, not a bad read for a language geek like me.
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