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Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing: Encounters with the Mysteries and Meanings of Language

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In Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing, Tammet goes back in time to London to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; in Iceland, he learns why the name Blær became a court case; in Canada, he meets one of the world's most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots; contrives an "e"-less essay on lipograms; studies the grammar of the telephone; contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects; and corresponds with native Esperanto speakers - in their mother tongue.

Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing explores the way communication shapes reality.

262 pages, Hardcover

First published September 12, 2017

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About the author

Daniel Tammet

12 books358 followers
Daniel Tammet was born in a working-class suburb of London, England, on 31 January 1979, the eldest of nine children. His mother had worked as a secretarial assistant; his father was employed at a sheet metal factory. Both became full-time parents.

Despite early childhood epileptic seizures and atypical behaviour, Tammet received a standard education at local schools. His learning was enriched by an early passion for reading. He won the town's 'Eager Reader' prize at the age of eleven. At secondary school he was twice named Student of the Year. He matriculated in 1995 and completed his Advanced level studies (in French, German, and History) two years later.

In 1998 Tammet took up a volunteer English teaching post in Kaunas, Lithuania, returning to London the following year. In 2002 he launched the online language learning company Optimnem. It was named a member of the UK's 'National Grid for Learning' in 2006.

In 2004, Tammet was finally able to put a name to his difference when he was diagnosed with high-functioning autistic savant syndrome by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University's Autism Research Centre.

The same year, on March 14, Tammet came to public attention when he recited the mathematical constant Pi (3.141...) from memory to 22,514 decimal places in 5 hours, 9 minutes, without error. The recitation, at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, set a European record.

Tammet began writing in 2005. His first book, Born On A Blue Day, subtitled 'A Memoir of Asperger's and an Extraordinary Mind', was first published in the UK in 2006 and became a Sunday Times bestseller. The US edition, published in 2007, spent 8 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2008, the American Library Association named it a 'Best Book for Young Adults'. It was also a Booklist Editors' Choice. It has sold over 500,000 copies worldwide, and been translated into more than 20 languages.

In 2009, Tammet published Embracing the Wide Sky, a personal survey of current neuroscience. The French edition (co-translated by Tammet himself) became one of the country's best-selling non-fiction books of the year. It also appeared on bestseller lists in the UK, Canada, and Germany, and has been translated into numerous languages.

Thinking in Numbers, Tammet's first collection of essays, is published in August 2012.

In 2008 Tammet emigrated to France. He lives in Paris.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 119 reviews
Profile Image for Krista.
1,399 reviews593 followers
July 5, 2018
You are what you say – well, maybe, up to a point. Every voice carries certain personality traits – the tongue-tiedness of one; of another, the overreaching vowels. Every voice, in preferring dinner to supper, or in pronouncing this as dis, betrays traces of its past. But vocabulary is not destiny. Words, regardless of their pedigree, make only as much sense as we choose to give them. We are the teachers, not they. To possess fluency, or “verbal intelligence,” is to animate words with our imagination. Every word is a bird we teach to sing.

Eventually diagnosed with high-functioning autistic savant syndrome and synesthesia (only one of fifty with this particular diagnosis in the world), Daniel Tammet sees the world in a unique way: assigning colours to feelings and connecting more to numbers than to letters as a way to describe his inner life. Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing is the fourth nonfiction book Tammet has written from this unique perspective, and perhaps that means he has stretched his personal material a little thin at this point – perhaps he doesn't want to rehash the details he has written about before, but which I haven't read – so while I did find everything he assembled in this varied look at languages around the world to be interesting, I was most interested in his personal stories, which didn't last long enough for me.

From the beginning, Tammet writes that, though raised in London, English always felt like a second language that didn't belong to him – his long undiagnosed autism causes “a disconnect between man and language” and he was constantly translating experience into his private language of numbers. It wasn't until he started reading that he began to visually connect the look of words to their meanings (which gave him a unique way to essentially teach himself his mother tongue), but still, he privately wrote poetry composed of only numbers. To demonstrate his savant abilities, in 2004 Tammet correctly recited the first 22, 514 digits of pi (a European record) in front of a live audience over five hours:

As I gathered momentum, acquired rhythm, I sensed the men and women lean forward, alert and rapt. With each pronounced digit their concentration redoubled and silenced competing thoughts. Meditative smiles broadened faces. Some in the audience were even moved to tears. In those numbers I had found the words to express my deepest emotions. In my person, through my breath and body, the numbers spoke to the motley attendees on that bright March morning and afternoon.

Tammet, who now lives in Paris with his French husband, discovered along the way that reading Dostoevsky in French translation freed him from self-consciousness and allowed him the pleasure of “learning new words and discovering new worlds”. Tammet had eventually realised that the same method he had used to teach himself to read English – exploring the character of a new word instead of literally translating it – would be the key to learning any new language. Tammet recalls being a nineteen year old volunteer ESL teacher in Lithuania and teaching the women in his class via this method (ie, getting them to explore “sn” and “sm” words – snicker, sneer, smile, smirk – and recognise that they're all focussed on the mouth), and along the way, he picked up Lithuanian. I loved the chapter in which Tammet discovered a poet, Les Murray, whose words struck him to the core, only to learn that Murray is also a high functioning autistic man. I found it fascinating that when Tammet was given the nod to translate Murray's poetry into French, Tammet understood that translating the character of the words (the visual arrangement of consonants and vowels, the mix of tall and short and rounded letters, internal assonance) was vastly more important than literally translating the words and imagery (and that Murray was okay with that). I was fascinated by everything up to this point, but suddenly, the book becomes about Tammet travelling around the world, speaking to experts about their languages. Abruptly, Tammet is in Mexico City, talking with a man who is a native speaker of Nahuatl – the language of the Aztecs and their descendants – a culture that “revered the power and the magic of sounds”:

Mexico City (then Tenochtitlán) was always booming , ringing, resounding in the days of Montezuma's glory. The wind whistled, the Aztecs – with flutes and ocarinas – whistled; to the tinkling of a rain shower they added the tinkling of their bracelets, anklets, ceramic pendants and beads; after a night ablare with thunder, a morning of horns and conches, copper gongs and tortoiseshell drums. Singers in iridescent feathers roared like jaguars, squawked like eagles, cooed like quetzals. Mellifluous orations, “flower songs”, offered the listener color and beauty, and could inspire and pacify.

Tammet then meets with native Esperanto speakers, speaks with an African author who thinks all African literature should be written only in African languages, and then goes to Iceland and learns that there is a committee that not only scours the media for the intrusion of Icelandic-corrupting slang, but they also must approve every potential baby name as authentically Icelandic before a birth certificate can be issued. Tammet meets with those on the Isle of Man who have resurrected the Manx language from the 1940s recordings of the handful of native elderly speakers who had still lived on the island at the time, meets with the first Englishman elected to the French Academy (which curates the definitive list of what words are authentically French and enforces their use), and while everything to this point seems to be about the protection of languages under threat – and especially under the threat of encroaching American slang – the book then takes another turn, with Tammet meeting with people who approach language in a more intentional manner. He describes the OuLiPo movement (a method of writing within restraints, which Tammet writes about within restraints), and then learns sign language (I did find it interesting that the two people he meets don't consider themselves to be part of the official Deaf culture: the man, because he has a cochlear implant and has regained his hearing; and the woman, because she was taught to lipread as a child and therefore regrets that “her brain had been made to resemble that of a hearing person's”). Tammet speaks with a man who translates the Old Testament from the original Hebrew into German, and then with people who study the emergent grammar of telephone conversations, and ends with speaking with those who are writing computer programs that simulate human speech – as it turns out, they may never pass the Turing Test. And then the book ends rather abruptly with this conversation with Mark Bickhard (a Professor of Cognitive Robotics and the Philosophy of Knowledge ):

Humans in conversation, he concludes, update and modify social reality from moment to moment. Meanings are broached, negotiated, tussled over. Big things are at stake. Computers, on the other hand, inert and indifferent, “can't care less” about meaning. It is this can't-care-less-ness that will forever keep them imitating people's words.

I care about the philosopher's words. They can change me, and I let them. When I turn off my laptop it feels warm. I notice that. Not the warm of a friend's hug or handshake; only of electricity, I think. But without it, how much less of the world's meaning would our brains transform, convert?

Without a concluding chapter, or a thesis statement beyond the book's title, it's hard to parse what Tammet's ultimate goal was. I most enjoyed stories of Tammet's personal relationship with language, and while I appreciate the importance of protecting threatened languages as a vital expression of the unique cultures that produced them, I couldn't really see a connection between the last few sections of the book and what came before. And yet, it was all interesting, and as a collection of the ideas that fired up Tammet's remarkable brain, it was always rewarding to tag along with the author as he pursued those ideas.
Profile Image for Katie/Doing Dewey.
1,077 reviews211 followers
December 1, 2017
I thought it was offensive that some critics thought this author’s earlier memoir might be a one-off ‘disability memoir’. However, I have to admit that part of what made me think he would have something interesting to say is the belief that someone with autism might have a different perspective on the world. To an extent, this was true. The way the author associates concepts with numbers (in part due to his synesthesia) was fascinating and his descriptions were beautiful, poetic in a way delightfully rooted in math. However, I also felt like his passion for words tapped into a common feeling, something I’ve felt from many authors. The way he analyzes words may or may not be unique (he’s certainly more thoughtful and more knowledgeable in his appreciation for language than I am!), but the passion driving his analysis is something I think any reader or writer will enjoy relating to. Lovely read, highly recommended.

This review first published on Doing Dewey
Profile Image for Margaret Sankey.
Author 9 books208 followers
May 22, 2017
Tammet, as a person with high functioning autism, defied conventional expectations and turned the workings of his mind to a field in which he could find great advantage--sociolinguistics. Although primarily a novelist, this is a set of essays in which he engages global language: the onomatopoetic words of Nahua in Mexico, the only Englishman in the French Academy, the Icelandic personal names committee, the challenge of translating the Bible for a Pacific tribe that has never seen milk or honey, the dialects of sign language (and its French roots), attempts to keep the Manx language alive, and teaching business English to Lithuanian women in the 1990s.
Profile Image for fiafia.
311 reviews43 followers
February 9, 2018
J'ai beaucoup aimé Je suis né un jour bleu de Daniel Tammet, ce qui explique d'ailleurs mon intérêt pour celui-ci. Cependant, les deux livres sont bien différents. Si Je suis né un jour bleu a été le récit de sa vie, son parcours, ses difficultés, sa découverte du monde et de sa propre personnalité, Chaque mot est un oiseau à qui l'on apprend à chanter (quel titre magnifique!) est un recueil d'articles, d'essais, de retranscriptions d'interviews, tout cela autour des mots et de la linguistique en général. C'est encore mieux! pourraient dire ceux qui me connaissent bien et je le dis moi-même. D'autant qu'il choisit les sujets qui me tiennent vraiment à coeur: perception des mots, préférence pour certains mots, esperanto et LSF, OULIPO (avec un exercice de style assez brillant autant de la part de Tammet que de son traducteur), la disparition des langues, l'opposition des langues, la fidélité des traductions, etc., etc.
Tammet ne fait pas de simple vulgarisation, il présente son sujet et va aussitôt au fond du problème, il évoque des aspects qui sont loin d'être à la surface. Malgré cela, les textes restent à la portée de tout le monde, y compris des gens pas spécialement initiés à certaines problématiques de la linguistique.
Mais il y a un mais. À mon avis, Tammet privilégie le fond, le contenu qui pour lui sont suffusants pour rendre le sujet passionnant. C'est vrai en soi mais cela ne marche pas toujours, il ne réussit pas à rendre sa passion communicative. Et malgré mon intérêt le plus aigu pour les sujets traités, j'ai trouvé certains passages un peu longs ou ennuyeux. Cela me fait vraiment mal de devoir le dire.
Profile Image for Anne.
357 reviews52 followers
March 2, 2018
I am strangely receptive to alluring book titles. Some books are named so brilliantly that the title alone is enough to make me yearn to read it, no matter what the topic. A few of my favourite titles are Far From the Madding Crowd, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Living to Tell the Tale, In Search of Lost Time, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers, The Cider House Rules, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.

A new favourite title is Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing. It is beautifully visual, and after finishing this book I could see why this title was chosen - it seems to reflect Tammet's way of looking at the world of language.

Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing is a very interesting mix of different subtopics within the field of language. I had expected a more educational book, but Tammet's setup is more personal than that. Every chapter is based on a place he visited, people he met, experiences he had, or simply experts he questioned about a topic of his interest. For instance, there is a chapter on Tammet's TEFL experience in Lithuania, one with his meeting with a native speaker of Nahuatl and one on sign language. I would say that Tammet is more interested in venturing into unexplored areas of language, rather than focussing on conveying as many facts as possible. This may disappoint one reader and delight the other - I was leaning toward the latter.

I liked the wide range of topics and seeing his personal input: Tammet often just describes being intrigued by something and then arranging a meeting with someone. Every page shows how much he enjoys language and the chapter on OuLiPo clearly shows his love for playing with language. I didn't learn a lot of facts per se, but after reading it I feel like I have been introduced to a lot of different ways of thinking about and using language, and that in itself makes Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing inspiring and worth a read.
Profile Image for Gracie.
5 reviews
December 24, 2018
This summary is much better than the book. It is not a book about the science of language but rather a series of essays about one man's connections to/experiences with language. Though the blurb is quite enticing, I do not find it to be an accurate reflection of the book.
Profile Image for Kitty.
1,209 reviews77 followers
February 18, 2021
väga mõnus esseekogumik keelest kui sellisest ja konkreetsetest keeltest.

autorit ennast - teame ju, autistlik geenius, kes võib tundide kaupa peast pii komakohti ette lugeda, oskab kümmet keelt ja valis endale ise eestikeelse perekonnanime, sest see lihtsalt... meeldis ja sobis talle - on siin tegelikult võrdlemisi vähe. ainult paaris esimeses essees kirjeldab ta rohkem iseenda suhet ja kogemusi keel(t)ega. nii et kui tema vastu rohkem huvi tunda, tuleks ikkagi ette võtta elulooraamat "Sündinud sinisel päeval" ja ilmselt ma ükskord võtan ka.

aga siin on ta lihtsalt põhjalikult uurinud ja siis meile jutustanud huvitavaid lugusid, mis keeltega kuidagi seotud. näiteks selgub, et maailmas leidub inimesi, kes kõnelevad esperantot emakeelena, ja Tammet on mõned neist üles leidnud ja nendega vestelnud. ja selgub, et Mani saarel on oma keel (kirjapildi järgi otsustades sarnaneb veidi kõmri keelega) ja et kuigi viimane selle emakeelena kõneleja suri 1970ndatel, tegutseb saarel praegu manxikeelne algkool 70 õpilasega. üks essee - see, mis räägib raamatust mis on kirjutatud ühtegi korda e-tähte kasutamata - on kirjutatud... ühtegi korda e-tähte kasutamata. juttu tuleb viipekeelest ja Islandi nimekomiteest ja Prantsuse akadeemiast ja piibli tõlkimisest.

kuna mitte väga ammu lugesin just Jaan Kaplinski keeleteemaliste esseede raamatut, siis tekkis mul siin tohutus koguses paralleele. nii et kõigile, kes on Kaplinskit juba lugenud, soovitan Tammetit ka, ja vastupidi ja üleüldse.
Profile Image for Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum.
1,005 reviews109 followers
October 23, 2017
Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing - Encounters with the Mysteries and Meanings of Language is a collection of essays by Daniel Tammet. Daniel is an autistic savant with synaesthesia and his love of language and words intrigued me enough to pick up this book and find out more. What I learned quickly was that Daniel Tammet is a little out of my league. His collection of essays takes an almost academic look at language and meaning, and I wasn't prepared for just how many languages he would reference; narrowly thinking this book would be primarily about the English language. I later learned Tammet is a polyglot and has mastered 10 languages: English, Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic, and Welsh, the majority of which are referred to in this book.

Most interesting essays
An Englishman at L'Academie Francaise was about the group of people assigned the task of refining the French dictionary. This felt like a glimpse into another century, so to discover this is still happening today was a thrill.

My favourite essay was Talking Hands, which was essentially about ASL. I didn't know that the persons's stance - leaning forward, leaning back or to the left/right - also added meaning to sign language and I just loved this essay.

I enjoyed A Grammar of the Telephone, which was all about how the emerging technology of the time inspired a new way for people to begin a conversation and talk to each other without the cues of body language.

Least enjoyable essays
Translating Faithfully was about translating the Old Testament and Conversational Human looked at whether chatbots will ever sound truly like 'us'.

Most impressive essay
OuLiPo is the essay title, but also a "loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques." (Wikipedia) While writing about these writers, Tammet does so without ever using the letter 'e'. It was amusing and easily the most impressive piece of writing in the collection.

I recommend this book to those with an interest in linguistics. Those with a love of the English language might find themselves a little out of their depth in some of the essays but there's no reason why you can't pick and choose which essays to read. It will be well worth the effort.

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *
Profile Image for Alan Teder.
2,064 reviews109 followers
December 21, 2017
Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant whose talents include quick mathematical calculations & memorization, multiple languages and colour synesthesia. He has performed various public stunts, presumably for book publicity, such as learning Icelandic in 1 week and then being interviewed about it on Icelandic Television and memorizing/reciting Pi to 22,514 digits. I first learned of him about a decade ago from reading various articles / reviews related to his autobiography Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant.

At the time, the draw of interest for me was that Tammet had changed his family name after finding the Estonian word "tamm" (oak) on the internet. He adopted the new name as he preferred the colours and shapes that it conveyed to his synesthetic sensibility. I hadn't read any of his books previously, but this most recent 2017 title with essays on various languages or methods of speech and writing intrigued me.

The essays cover a wide range of topics including Tammet's own teaching of English in Lithuania, Icelandic naming rules, L'Academie Francaise and its official control of the French language, Sign Language, Telephone speaking conventions and habits, writing with Oulipo constraints (an essay which is itself written with an Oulipo constraint), the attempts to preserve the Manx language (the Gaelic language unique to the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea), translating the Old Testament Bible, whether AI bots will ever pass a conversational Turing Test etc. All of these were intriguing and full of linguistic trivia that you likely have never heard about before (at least I certainly hadn't).

Oddly, there is no essay about the Mänti language which is a Finnic-based language which Tammet invented by adapting his favourite Finnish and Estonian words. Perhaps it is covered in another one of his several books which I am now even more eager to read.
10 reviews
December 29, 2022
Maybe 3.5 stars. Overall I liked this book and found each chapter interesting, but it's more of a collection of essays with nothing connecting the chapters except that they're all about language.

Each chapter/essay basically explores a specific encounter with something language related (specific idiosyncrasies of language, obscure/dying languages, translation, sign language, phone communication, etc) that Tammet had, and he seems to be well travelled and to have had a lot of interesting encounters and conversations with people knowledgeable on these topics.

Although for the most part it was interesting and I enjoyed the personal aspect of each story, I did get a little bored towards the end, which may be due at least in part to there not being an overall theme.
Profile Image for Amelia Smith.
74 reviews12 followers
May 26, 2017
full review on agreybox: https://tinyurl.com/y8urztzt
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for honest review.

Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing by Daniel Tammet is a non-fiction piece that focuses on our relationship as beings possessing the ability to communicate through language. This relationship isn’t always tended to—how many of us on a daily basis think about the words and the words others use to communicate, especially not just what they mean but how they sound, look and feel? In many ways, I felt as though this book asked of me to slow down and find pleasure in the way in which humans communicate.

Though it is a book about linguistics, Every Word doesn’t require a previous knowledge or interest in the subject. Not bogged down with linguistic jargon, and thoroughly explained with the jargon arises, Every Word tells stories about language that are accessible and will appeal to a wide audience, which is its strength. Through personal stories and interviews, Tammet weaves together a tapestry on the beauty and frustrations of language, at once a method of connection and a barrier of understanding. It’s a love letter, laden with hopes, fears, frustrations, and the triumph of connection.

Tammet’s personal relationship with language is the first subject in his book and it is a necessary beginning as the author experiences language in a way that many people don’t. Identifying on the high end of the spectrum of autism, Tammet’s first experience with language was one that no one else understood. Numbers were his chosen way to communicate and Tammet describes this system and his tumultuous relationship with using English to express himself.

The rest of Every Word journeys through many topics, all related to language. Tammet captures the paradox of language in discussing the utopian dream of an easy-to-learn global language of Esperanto and the tragedy (to some more than others) of the disappearance of languages due to cultural imperialism. Here too he delves into the politics of the language of repression and the efforts of native speakers of suppressed languages, like those in Africa, to publish works in their mother tongue. He takes us on a trip to cultures obsessively dedicated with preserving the sanctity of their language in an effort that is both admirable and fool-hardy.

I felt that these subjects were handled with respect. Even when Tammet’s position on the topic shows through his writing, he isn’t dismissive of the other side of the arguments presented. With many of these political issues, there’s strong arguments on both sides and I liked that Tammet expressed his own doubts and beliefs without pressuring the reader to agree with him.

This is a book for people who love language and for those who don’t already to fall in love with it.
Profile Image for Sam Hanekom .
96 reviews6 followers
December 24, 2017
Daniel Tammet is an explorer and treasure seeker, and his prize is language. Tammet is uniquely qualified for a linguistic adventure, through his synaesthesia – the ability to interpret one sense as another. In his case, Tammet sees language as a visible construct – shapes, colours and textures. Initially fluent in the language of numbers (even composing poems of numbers), Tammet has always had a remarkable yet perhaps unusual relationship with words – they are more than pen strokes on a page, but physically represent a shape, feeling, texture or colour, arranging themselves in unusual partnerships and illustrating their links to their brethren through manners invisible to many.

Tammet’s unique experience of language thus illustrates to the reader the immense richness of any language, the amazing possibilities in prefixes and suffixes, the playful manner in which a language can be constructed and destructed, allowing one to see it anew. This rebirth of language in the mind of the reader is a moving a deeply rewarding experience, which Tammet gracefully and intelligently communicates.

Daniel Tammet has allowed me the opportunity to view my mothertongue anew, as a creature which constantly evolves, adapts and and translates. As he declares, “English never stops.” Through the book’s unique interpretation of words, sounds and the squiggles which indicate both, it becomes apparent that no language is fixed – while rules govern grammar and structure, the feelings and imagery inspired by a specific expression can be interpreted differently be many readers – in fact, it is safe to say that every person translates their own language, as well as that of others. Indeed, the author explains an incredibly powerful aspect of language and communication, “To be fluent, we must animate words with our imagination”.

Every Word is a Bird we Teach to Sing is a rewarding experience, a ticket to Tammet’s journey in search of what makes language just that, and the politics, history and evolution behind communication. His book truly has the power to change the way we view language as a tool which allows us to communicate.

Throughout its forages into the various complexities of language and communication, Tammet makes a point of leaving you with the realization that what is most important in this all is meaning, not the words or gestures you use to provide it.

Tammet’s is a book which makes scholarly investigation exciting, and which makes greater understanding possible. I cannot adequately praise his efforts, but I leave you with an instruction; he is a pathfinder, and we should follow him.

Every Word is a Bird we Teach to Sing by Daniel Tammet is published by Hodder & Stoughton, an imprint of Hachette Books, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
255 reviews4 followers
June 15, 2017
Thanks to NetGalley for the free digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Check out all my book reviews at www.myliterary2cents.blogspot.com

Plot Summary: This is a narrative of the author's life. He is a high functioning autistic with some amazing, although unique, linguistic skills. He starts out telling about his life as a boy and his unique language of numbers. The chapters then go on to describe how he acquired more linguistic ability through travel. He explains series of tests he was put through in order to better understand his unique abilities. He explains numerous word origins that are pretty fascinating. He speaks of translations briefly in one chapter.

Notes about the author/writing style: This writer is obviously very brilliant. This is definitely not a "beach read", but is very interesting. Given the uniqueness of how this author learns, all educators should read at least one book of his.

What I loved about the book: I loved learning about the author's unique "math language". Every word had a number attached to it. That blows my mathematical brain!

What I disliked about the book: There were parts a little too technical and detailed for me.

Who should read this book? Anyone who loves words and learning!
Profile Image for Emma.
13 reviews7 followers
December 12, 2018
I loved the first few chapters, which were more about the author's experience of language, as a person with autism. Then the chapters started to deviate into language in general, and towards the end of the book I got bored...the chapters stopped being as delightful, and were more historical. I think I'd like to read the author's other books (Born on a Blue Day, Thinking in Numbers) as I think I was more drawn to his particular experience of language as a synaesthete.
Profile Image for Kerry.
185 reviews2 followers
October 9, 2017
I found this patchy - some absolutely fascinating, but some slightly tedious. (The chapter on Esperanto, for example, was unnecessarily long.) But worth a read if language is your thing, and the first chapter in which he explains how his autism and synaesthesia affected his childhood experience of language was really interesting.
3 reviews
May 9, 2019
A bit different than what I expected. I thought it would be more about the author and his experience with how he perceives language. It did start that way but then got into a lot of specifics of obscure languages. Very interesting information, but I felt like each chapter could have been the pages shorter without hitting the content.
Profile Image for Chad.
178 reviews
January 25, 2018
The title alone earned a five star rating. A fascinating exploration of language and our relationship to it.
Profile Image for Tom.
370 reviews
February 12, 2018
This book is difficult to categorize. It is written by an individual who is a high-functioning autistic savant. He experiences synthesia so that words take on variety of shapes and forms.
Profile Image for The Resistance Bookclub.
47 reviews7 followers
December 7, 2019
I picked up this book in a charity shop almost randomly. Of course, I was aware it dealt with languages and as a linguistics student I could not walk past that, but otherwise I had no prior knowledge of the author or any of the material of the book.

The first surprise came when Daniel Tammet revealed he was autistic in the beginning of the novel. From this point I knew I was in for a treat. As an autistic linguistics student I longed for other people to see language from a neurodiverse perspective. While I have a different personal history to the author and a different relationship to foreign languages, there is something immediately uniting about our shared neurotype. Autistic people often have a difficult relationship to language, some are ostracized for speech delay or being non-verbal (which does not mean without language, just communicating differently) or made fun of for sounding too adult and formal. Because of this, having essays on language written by an autistic author is incredibly important for autistic and allistic readers.

The second surprise came when Daniel Tammet talked about discovering by random in a charity shop a poetry collection by Les Murray who would turn out to be autistic. The parallels to my discovery of Daniel Tammet is uncanny. I will check out Les Murray’s poetry at my earliest convenience.

The third surprise was opening the book again after some time and the next chapter being about Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. I was just in the process of writing an essay on his short story “The Martyr”. It seems destiny wanted me to pick up this book.

Every chapter of “every word is a bird we teach to sing” features a different language-related topic, like foreign language teaching, an indigenous Mexican language, sign language, native Esperanto speakers, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, the French Academy, translation, Les Murray etc

All of these little essays are personal, full of anecdotes, they are shaped by the author’s autistic experience, and they are a joy to read (the chapter without the letter e broke my brain). Of course, they are popular linguistics and you should not expect essays of academic quality with footnotes, but that’s the joy of the novel: you do not have to be an expert in linguistics to understand it. You can dive into it without any prior knowledge. At the same time it is still deeply fascinating to read as a linguistics student with background knowledge in some topics.
Profile Image for Jawad Marji.
8 reviews
November 16, 2020
I came across this book when I wanted to check out who Daniel Tammet is. The first beautiful thing about this book is its title, it just sounds pretty. And if it weren't for its musical name, I might've chosen another, a maybe more popular book of the same author.

Anyway, I don't know much about linguistics, but reading what Daniel Tammet had to say about words and sounds and so on, just made me all the more curious about the field. It was interesting and admirable to learn about the different ways in which words and sounds come about in different languages. I especially enjoyed learning about the attempts to revive the Manx language for example, and the unique, almost persnickety language in some indigenous populations of South America.

It was really a joy learning all these 15 very different stories that the author had to tell.
March 1, 2022
I've always been fascinated with language and wish I had the opportunity to take a deeper delve into linguistics. This book takes a deep dive into some really interesting areas from the author's experience of language as numbers while growing up with autism to Icelandic naming conventions. Each chapter is a standalone essay on very different topics and some chapters disappointingly failed to capture my attention and others just dragged. If I could rate each chapter individually I'd give many 5 stars, but as a total work it's more like 3.5.
Profile Image for Javier.
114 reviews1 follower
February 27, 2020
J'ai eu le privilège de voir un présentation de Daniel Tammet à la Conférence de Polyglottes en Islande et j'ai voulu lire ses livres depuis. Voilà que j'ai eu la chance et je n'ai pas été déçu! J'ai adoré les petites histoires et sa façon si intéressante de voir les langues et la communication. Sa façon d'écrire est aussi très agréable et légère, ce qui fait la lecture de son texte un grand plaisir.
Profile Image for minaudible.
56 reviews1 follower
June 2, 2022
Este señor se ha convertido en uno de mis autores favoritos, supongo que en parte por el interés que me suscita.

Una persona tan neurodivergente hablando sobre temas lingüísticos y su forma de ver las palabras, los idiomas, etc... Sign me up.

He dejado una entrada más detallada por aquí: Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing.
Profile Image for Lucy.
199 reviews
May 13, 2021
Interest: 9/10 stars
I might be a little biased because I'm interested in the mechanics of language, but this book is just so interesting. Its multilingual perspective pushes past mere English, so we get the full understanding of what language is. He investigates many topics, too, from translation to the linguistics of telephone calls, so the reader never grows bored.

Pacing: 10/10 stars
Each chapter was perfectly paced, in my opinion. He lingers where necessary, but he does not drag things out. They're also just the perfect length to read in one sitting, and since each chapter is basically unconnected to the last, it can be read like a literary journal.

Writing/structure: 8/10 stars
I really liked the writing style in this. Direct, clear, but not boring. Tammet has a way of conveying his thoughts in such a pleasant way.

The only reason this doesn't have nine stars is because of the chapter in which he doesn't use the letter "e." Yes, it's a fun little challenge, but that chapter was annoying to read since things were mostly unclear and jumbled.

Enjoyability: 9/10 stars
The combination of intrigue, clear writing, and fantastic pacing made this book so much fun to read. Tammet picks his topics expertly, as well, and develops them with ease.

Multilingual: 10/10 stars
Like I mentioned earlier, this book is written from a multilingual perspective. It makes the book's dialogue all the more interesting because we learn of fundamentally different ways of speaking. My favorite chapter might be on the translation of the Bible for specifically that reason; Tammet writes about a culture with a language that didn't even have an alphabet, and then Christian missionaries integrated themselves into the village culture to learn their language (by the way, this is a recent story, like within the last handful of decades). It was so intriguing to read about the language and how people develop understandings of one another.

(9+10+8+9+10)/50 =

4.6 stars, rounded up
Profile Image for Brianna.
216 reviews1 follower
June 10, 2021
I loved this!! All the stories were so cool!!
Profile Image for Bożek.
130 reviews53 followers
May 24, 2022
Jest to jednak smuteczek, że rozdział o Perecu i Oulipo - w oryginale bez litery E - w polskim przekładzie ma wszystkie możliwe samogłoski
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