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The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  117 ratings  ·  23 reviews
An exhilarating exploration of how the world's languages are likely to transform and be transformed by their speakers

Mark Abley, author of Spoken Here, takes the reader on a global journey like no other—from Singapore to Tokyo, from Oxford to Los Angeles, through the Internet and back in time. As much a travel book as a tour of words at play, The Prodigal Tongue goes beyon
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 20th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published May 13th 2008)
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Olga Godim
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
When we read, we do things impossible in our mundane existence, go places we can’t reach by public transportation. We fly among the stars, dance at Regency balls, or follow a canny detective in her search for a killer. We travel between the pages. With the guidance of Mark Abley, my reading journey into his book encompassed the past and the future and spanned across all the continents except Antarctica. I took a trip to the realm of English language.

According to Abley’s book, English is changin
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: language lovers
This book is something I would easily reread and highly recommend to anyone who enjoys etymology and the evolution of language. It is entirely about English but not just English. It is about how English is both the most widely spoken secondary language and changing into something very different from English. Abley attempts to answer the very interesting question of which language will replace English as the de facto language of the world with an equally interesting (but perhaps more complicated) ...more
M. Apple
Jan 25, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading about the history of the English language. As a language educator, I love learning and teaching about the variety of Englishs around the world, and I'm very aware of the false "native/non-native" dichotomy, the role technology plays in changing language, and so forth.

This is the first time I simply could not finish a book on English.

It's not that the writing itself was bad or poorly written. It's that it had no point. The chapters meander all over creation like an unedited blog. T
Blair Conrad
Jun 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008, nonfiction, library
An interesting book – I like the discussions of the changes English has undergone and is undergoing and the way it’s affecting other languages. (And all the pop culture references I’m familiar with were fun.)
I especially enjoyed the section on Japan(ese), as I’ve recently returned from there and had been wondering about all the English-derived words that existed, “Really, they had no word for ‘milk’? Or ‘green’?”).
Unfortunately, I didn’t find that the book was formed in such a way as to provide
Apr 29, 2012 rated it liked it
A compact survey of trends in English, this book is perhaps more interesting to read four years after it was published a lot of the cutting edge stuff has changed and I could think about it with more distance. Some of the technology is new--he doesn't cover Google Translate's ability to translate a whole web page for you--but I liked how he structures the book (chapters hit on technology, English as international common language, black English before and after hip hop). If you're feeling stresse ...more
Jessica Bebenek
Jul 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: thesis
Actually ended up abandoning this book.

I was reading it for my thesis (reading about the shifting use of language(s) between cultures), but it really fell short of what I was hoping for. The first chapter was interesting, but not really deep enough of a study as what I was looking for. The following chapters each focus very specifically (too specifically) on a culture and how its use of language is shifting, but then never really ends up pulling all of these overviews together to form a purpose
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language, non-fiction
Entertaining and informative. Nothing very new if you're interested in the subject, but it brings information together and packages it neatly. Very readable.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved Abley's exploration of how the world's languages have been transformed and will continue to be as a result of global trade, immigration, and the Internet, as well as how language changes people. Abley covers blogging, novels, dictionary makers, web-speak, and talks about what the future holds for each. My graduate program was in intercultural linguistics and this was right up my alley. Though the book is primarily about English as a shifting and influential global language (and, most int ...more
This book was a letdown. It had some really interesting information (and yes, reading it several years after its publication made some of it a bit funny--it was fun seeing the slang we used when I was in high school as the "modern slang"), but the way it was written made it so hard to absorb much of it. I'm not even sure what it was--I think the author had trouble figuring out if this was a casual conversation or a more formal, text-book style book. It was too dense and too meandering.
Jul 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English by Mark Abley

Well-written and surprisingly up to date, this Canadian author has introduced how the dictionary is an ongoing work, never to be finished, as the English language appears to take handsprings of changes at any given mini-decade to produce new words and change those of the past. He smoothly takes us through the many adaptations of English as determined by countries around the world.

I found the historic asides of the many langu
Dec 27, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: linguistics
After writing Spoken Here, Mark Abley got a Guggenheim Fellowship that enabled him to go around the world in search of the future of English. He goes to a Los Angeles shop that sells T-shirts that say "CHINGA TU MADRE" and underneath it in a smaller font "HAVE A NICE DAY", and "TU ERES UN PENDEJO" above "YOU ARE MY FRIEND". Hip-hop and its associated African American Vernacular English vocabulary spread from Senegal (where a popular rapper raps in English-influenced Wolof) to France (where a rap ...more
Rick Edwards
Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Abley handles his subject ably, and often with sharp insight. He examines the interaction between English and other languages on a variety of frontiers -- the way Japanese has absorbed English words and used them to replace some traditional Japanese terms; the emergence in Singapore of "Singlish" as English, Malay, and Chinese form a new linguistic blend; and the pressure of technology, especially IT and Internet communications, on the vocabulary and shape of English. Sometimes he seems to lose ...more
Lisa Houlihan
Tracing the history of "gay," Mark Abley says of a bit of Yeats ("They know Hamlet and Lear are gay" from "Lapis Lazuli") that the line could "evoke an unwanted image of certain actors." You know, that might be an unwonted take on the characters but it's not an undesirable one. Well, maybe I'd rather picture Laurence Olivier as Hamlet than as Lear.

In The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky attributes "honcho" to Basque; Abley says it's Japanese. I think Kurlansky is wrong.

Abley says (210
Richard Thompson
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was aware that the English language was in a state of flux, that languages in general change and evolve, but this book was a revelation. I had no idea what a bubbling global language cauldron we are witnessing with the advent of global trade, mass immigration and the Internet.

A fascinating book.

Very likely this will one will find a place on our Read-alouds List... which it did as of July 9, 2018 when I finished reading the book aloud to Maggee. She liked it too. THE PRODIGAL TONGUE is book #
Jul 16, 2008 rated it liked it
An interesting and informative, though not necessarily new, look at how the English language is being changed by technology and culture, and also the changes English is bringing to other languages around the world. Abley's findings are often frustrating, and sometimes heartbreaking, for language geeks—but change is a fact of life for any thriving language.

Anyway, this was a fun little adventure into English. I especially liked the chapter on English in Japan and the chapter on English in science
Sep 05, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
More than an actual book about the changes in (the English) language, The Prodigal Tongue is a collection of humourous, and, admittedly, entertaining linguistic anecdotes.

As for the actual informational value of the book, the author states in the introduction that language is in constant change; then he gives examples of said changes; then, in the conclusion, he concludes that language is changing. In other words, the book just plods on without any actual progression conclusions or scientific va
Sara Phelps
Sep 08, 2009 rated it liked it
This is a hard one to rate. Quite slow in the beginning, the book contains a lot of interesting information and ideas about language. It reinforces the pertinent theme of our increasing intolerance for lack of connectivity and our addiction to information and mulitasking. His comments about current modes of reading (i.e., skimming) struck a chord with me, as did the topic of corporate nounspeak. The idea makes me want to change how I converse at work.
Elizabeth K.
Oct 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Elizabeth by: SDMB
Shelves: 2011-new-reads
This was decent, a descriptivist overview of realms where English is evolving by the minute, nicely grouped into thematic chapters (Asia, the internet, science fiction). It's REMARKABLE how his examples of current slang, current in 2008 when the book was published, already sound so clunky. I think it would be good for people who miss William Safire, although Abley isn't as acerbic.
Arja Salafranca
Feb 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this lively, very readable book Abley takes a look at a number of possible futures for English – will it split off into a variety of dialects as happened with Latin and the Romance languages? Will the influence of technology and tech talk render the language all but unrecognisable in a few decades? Abley crosses the globe in pursuit of answers.
Oct 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Okay so I skipped a few chapters, but overall this book is interesting to read, if you want to learn more about language or the way English is used and misused and morphed around the world you will like it.
Jun 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting, but nothing I had not already read in college.
An interesting look at the current state of the English language -- luckily it's not judgmental, nor does it poo-poo non-standard English. A decent read.
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Mark Abley was born in England in 1955. As a small child his family moved to Canada, and he grew up in northern Ontario, southern Alberta and central Saskatchewan. He studied literature at the University of Saskatchewan and, after winning a Rhodes Scholarship, at St. John’s College, Oxford. As a young man Mark travelled in more than twenty countries in Europe and Asia. Aspiring to be a poet, he be ...more

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