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Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages Hardcover – 22 Jan 2004

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann (22 Jan. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434011533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434011537
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 3.2 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 561,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘A fascinating and at times moving account of how languages die…Illuminating and unique’ -- The Observer Travel

‘A powerful and important book... His celebration of linguistic diversity is compelling, his diagnosis of its demise devastating.' -- Sunday Times

‘I recommend Mr Abley’s book.’ -- Sunday Telegraph

‘If you instinctively inveigh against blandness and uniformity, this is an essential read.’ -- Guardian

‘…any book which awakens our indifference…is to be welcomed, particularly one so well-written and lively’ -- New Statesman

Book Description

Both fascinating and moving, award-winning journalist Mark Abley's travels to visit the world's dying and threatened languages and the people who speak them. Last Chance to See, but of languages rather than animals. (2003-04-02)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe on 19 July 2005
Format: Paperback
Have you ever wondered how you would react if *your* language was threatened with extinction? Would you miss it at all? What more would you lose than words and phrases? Mark Abley tracked the world for 10 years to pursue these and related questions. His discoveries make for an intriguing read spiked with some learning about local tongues like Boro, Yuchi, Provençal or Manx.
Language is used to express the worldview of its speakers, bur does it also shape and influence it? Are the connotations that a word's meaning carries consciously passed on? Many traditional languages have in common that they are more complicated in their grammar than modern ones. Some prescribe human kinships in great detail and maintain a different vocabulary for each gender to use. Does these aspects have a bearing on the human interrelationships? The author pursues the answers from the elders, language teachers and linguistic experts. Of particular interest to him are languages that structure sentences around verbs rather than nouns, as we are used to. Placing the "action" in the centre of a phrase results in a different perspective on life, he argues, making it more inclusive of the surroundings and reducing the primary role of the self. The Boro language, spoken in northern India, has one-verb expressions that require full sentences when translated into English: "gagrom", for example, means "to search for a thing below the water by trampling" or "mokhrob" - to express anger by a sidelong glance. Mohawk must be one of the most complex languages in its use of verbs. In addition to describing the action "a verb must indicate the agent, recipient and the time of the action".
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By S. Yogendra VINE VOICE on 20 Oct. 2003
Format: Hardcover
Travelogues have long been a key source of vicarious pleasure for me but this one was unusual because it tickled the lover-of-languages in me too. A collection of discrete stories, joined only by the struggles (and joys!) of the last few speakers of dying languages from around the world, the book makes an intriguing reading. Sometimes it will fill you with sorrow, as when reading about the last speakers of Yuchi, a native Indian language and at moments. At other times, it will make you laugh out aloud, as when learning that the Boro languages from NE India has a verb for 'falling in the well unknowingly'... All in all, a joyous and contemplative ride. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Geoff Sawers on 29 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback
Apparently, US presidential hopeful John McCain was recently accosted by a woman who wanted him to know how furious she was about something. What was the issue? America's foreign policy? Russia's actions in Georgia? Nope; her local store had put the sign `Entrada' above the entrance.

English speakers are famous for their ignorance of other languages, and their occasional paranoia at the mere sign of linguistic difference. Yet English is fast becoming the single dominant world language. And two of the most prominent English-speaking countries (Australia and the USA) between them hold several hundred aboriginal languages in real danger of dying out within a generation or two. Mark Abley makes a compelling case for the importance of linguistic diversity, comparing it to biodiversity, in terms of the multiple ways of thinking that each language contains. This is an fascinating book, not quite as depressing as I have made it sound, in which the author - not a trained linguist by any means - visits various programs to revive threatened languages around the world - from Manx here in the UK, to Boro, Yuchi and Mohawk. I found it quite inspiring, not least because I am a Welsh learner myself. When will I stop calling myself a dysgwr - learner - and call myself a speaker? Perhaps never. Ah well, sdim ots da fi! Monolingualism in the UK, and the opprobrium levelled at Welsh in particular has always stuck in my craw. This I think is a book that should encourage every English speaker to learn another language.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 23 Dec. 2003
Format: Hardcover
The viral-like spread of English as the lingua franca of the modern world has had many disturbing effects, not the least of which is its corrosive effect on hundreds of languages spoken by comparatively small populations. Canadian journalist Abley isn't so interested in detailing how this has happened (it's pretty obvious that the proliferation of satellite television and the Internet over the last decade, coupled with American hegemony is largely to blame), but rather seeks to visit these communities to see what efforts are being made to preserve native tongues. Long chapters on specific regions (Northern Australia, Oklahoma, The Isle of Man, Provence, Quebec, Wales) are separated by briefer interludes on various related themes. This is a fascinating topic, and one I somehow expected to find more interesting than Abley makes it.
It's hard to put a finger on why the book was a bit of a letdown. Abley is scrupulously fair-minded in his reportage, and has clearly done a great deal of research. He's careful not to blindly place language preservationists on a pedestal, and asks some genuinely hard questions. Although here's clearly a champion of these disappearing languages and draws a distinct parallel between biodiversity and linguistic diversity, he doesn't shy from shining the light on the failings or more objectionable sides of preservationists. That said, there are a few shortcomings. One of these is that he never really discusses how this whole issue worked in the past. When the Roman Empire ran amok, did Latin replace indigenous speech? More problematic is his focus on languages developed nations. For example, the spread of Spanish in South America, and English and French in Africa have had profound influences, but ABley sticks to North America, Western Europe, and Australia.
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