October 07, 2011

Language Myths by Laurie Bauer

I got my degree in Linguistics and this was one of the books for my classes. For some particular reason I kept it and decided to read it again today. Everyone loves a good myth, and just as much people generally enjoy debunking a myth as well. That is what this book sets out to do for language. It is comprised of several chapters, each having their title state what it is that will be discussed and written by several different authors.

The Meaning of Words Should Not Be Allowed to Vary or Change by Peter Trudgill
He takes the time to explain how languages naturally change and with them, their words change meaning as well. There is nothing wrong with this and it is a development that should not be feared. He gives several examples in this chapter as well.

Some Languages are Just Not Good Enough by Ray Harlow
This chapter takes the time to discuss people's notions that some languages are just not sufficient for the modern world. It also explores the concept of countries with several languages using one prominent language in place of all others for ease of communication.

The Media Are Ruining English by Jean Aitchison
This chapter explores the effects media have on speakers of English and how stylistically English is expressed through media.

French is a Logical Language by Anthony Lodge
Lodge attempts to explain how there isn't really a "logical" language in the sense that rules tend to change for different things and one base set can never be applied to any one language.

English Spelling is Kattastroffik by Edward Carney
Like it sounds, this chapter covers the different rules of English spelling and how at times they do not seem logical. It tells you why some things are not spelled phonetically but rather are taken from other languages and adapted to English. It explains the rules behind certain spellings as well.

Women Talk Too Much by Janet Holmes
This is one most everyone has probably heard and Holmes sets out to disprove this myth. While she can't entirely, she does offer interesting research on situational speaking and the difference between genders.

Some Languages are Harder Than Others by Lars-Gunnar Andersson
This is an interesting one to try to disprove as from personal experience, I do find some languages harder than others. However, Andersson points out facts about native language and learning others and other concepts that make things necessarily easier for some languages and harder for others depending on a person's background and that it is not a static fact all over the world.

Children Can't Speak or Write Properly Anymore by James Milroy
Everyone always hears about how each generation is worse than the last. This applies to language too. Milroy discusses children's language and skills and how they might possibly just be naturally progressing linguistically as opposed to destroying the language.

In the Appalachians, They Speak Like Shakespeare by Michael Montgomery
Yeah, this is an odd sounding one and I had never heard of this notion before this book. However, Montgomery explores the myth that deep in the Appalachia there is an area that sounds like they are rehearsing a Shakespearean play.

Some Languages Have No Grammar by Winifred Bauer
Some people do believe this and Bauer illustrates how every language has a grammar and rules. They may not be obvious at first, but they are there.

Italian is Beautiful, German is Ugly by Howard Giles and Nancy Niedzielski
Everyone has a language they think is especially nice and it is true how Italian sounds pretty beautiful. But everyone also has different tastes and while some things can be beautiful in some languages and not others, all languages have something valuable in them.

Bad Grammar is Slovenly by Lesley Milroy
Ah, Grammar. People say that its misuse can make their ears burn. However, not everyone follows every rule of grammar correctly because it is in human nature to imitate those around them and the lines become blurred. Milroy focuses on how a misuse of Grammar is not lazy as one might think.

Black Children are Verbally Deprived by Walt Wolfram
This is a pretty insulting myth and it touches on how a race of people with such wonderful orators can have children who do not speak the language correctly. Wolfram focuses on this language and how it is not "deprived" but rather slang and other dialects are linguistically important.

Double Negatives Are Illogical by Jenny Cheshire
We've all probably used a double negative at some point in our lives. And despite it being illogical, we were understood or understood someone who has used it. Cheshire looks at this and wonders how it could possibly be illogical, if it is understood.

TV Makes People Sound the Same by J.K.Chambers
Chambers dispels this myth and proves that tv does not create a common sound for all people in an area. He offers some interesting studies to back his point.

You Shouldn't Say "It is Me" because 'Me' is Accusative by Laurie Bauer
This chapter goes into grammar and use of cases. It takes a focus on Latin and its contributions to the case structure.

They Speak Really Bad English Down South and in New York City by Dennis R. Preston
Ah accents. Even in America we fall prey to assuming things about people just by what comes out of their mouths. Preston takes a look at certain region's accents and how you shouldn't judge a person just by how they talk.

Some Languages are Spoken More Quickly Than Others by Peter Roach
This one is just as the chapter title says, Roach takes a look at the speed in which languages are spoken.

Aborigines Speak a Primitive Language by Nicholas Evans
Evans sets out in this chapter to describe how Aboriginal languages are not primitive and can compete in the modern world and retain full use.

Everyone Has An Accent But Me by John H. Esling
Everyone would like to believe that they have no accent, however, Esling explains that as long as you use language, you will have an accent.

America is Ruining the English Language by John Algeo
This chapter primarily focuses on how most British, and some Americans think that the American use of English is destroying the language. He focuses on how no language remains pure as they are constantly evolving.

There is also an index and introduction to some of the authors in this book. It is interesting to note that most of these chapters are easily understandable to the general public. It wasn't written for in-depth study by Linguists, but rather for the regular person who may just have an interest. This means that there aren't really any technical terms and the book only gets into the subject very briefly without any expansive study on any of the subjects. It is a good book for those outside the study or perhaps beginners in the study. As a Linguist I would have greatly enjoyed the book more if there had been more detail to it.

While some of the topics were interesting to me (Aborigines Speak a Primitive Language, The Meanings of Words.., Women Talk Too Much) some I didn't like near as well. For example, Some Languages Have No Grammar, while I believe there are people out there that believe this, common sense tells you that all languages must have rules and rules equal grammar so this is easy to disprove. Also, French is a Logical Language, is just strange to me. I had never heard of this before the book and really the explanation to me seemed simplistic and like they made the myth up just for filler for the book. Some of the other "myths" seemed to follow this as well as they just didn't seem realistic to me.

It is an interesting book and if some topics don't appeal to you it is easy to skip over the chapter without missing anything. If you have any interest in Linguistics, its a good book to take a glance through.

Language Myths
Copyright 1998
189 pages

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