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Trip of the Tongue [Paperback]

Little Elizabeth
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

18 Dec 2014

Though we're known as a nation of English speakers, the linguistic map of the United States is hardly monochromatic. While much ado has been made about the role that Spanish may play in our national future, it would be a gross misrepresentation to label America a bilingual country. On the contrary, our languages are as varied as our origins. There is Basque in Nevada, Arabic in Detroit, Gullah in South Carolina. We speak European, Asian, and American Indian languages; we speak creoles, jargons, and pidgins. As a resident of Queens-among the most ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse places on the planet-Elizabeth Little first began to wonder how this host of tongues had shaped the American experience. It was only a matter of time before she decided to take her questions on the road.

In Trip of the Tongue, Little explores our nation's many cultures and languages in search of what they say about who we are individually, socially, and politically. This book is both a celebration of American multiculturalism and a reflection on what we value, what we fight for, and what we allow ourselves to forget. Elizabeth Little is a witty and endearing tour guide for this memorable and original trip.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury (18 Dec 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1620400111
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620400111
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Review

Fascinating...Little's obvious enthusiasm drives the prose and keeps the information fresh and relevant. Arguing that language heritage is about more than the use of definite articles, Little delivers a revealing lesson in history, culture, prejudice, and privilege. (Booklist)

An entertaining and enlightening book from a brainy, foul-mouthed and very funny tour guide. (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

A Bill Bryson-esque journey across the landscape of American language and culture, including everything from Navajo to Norwegian.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Linguistics and Lutefisk 20 April 2012
By takingadayoff VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition
What a great idea for a book - a language-themed road trip across America. Elizabeth Little is not a linguist, but she has had a lifelong interest in languages. And she has a few thoughts about language.

Little notes that there is a surprising variety of languages in the United States. In New York City alone, hundreds of languages are spoken.

She begins the road trip with Native American languages. She finds that most of them are on their last legs as living languages, and this turns out to be one of the themes for the book. Digging into the history of Native American languages, she finds that there's a disturbing pattern of language discrimination of the sort that occurred when Native American children were discouraged from speaking their home languages. Discouragement often took the form of physical punishment as well as creating a sense of shame about the language. It's what Newt Gingrich would call "the language of the ghetto."

Little finds similar language discrimination in the history of Creole language in Louisiana and Gullah in Georgia. This leads her to conclude that "the history of language in America is ... ultimately a history of language loss."

It's hard to disagree with her conclusion and that language discrimination that takes cruel forms is reprehensible. But not all language change in America has been involuntary. Little is disappointed that descendants of Basque immigrants in Nevada speak only a few words of Basque. Yet she acknowledges that she has never felt compelled to learn Norwegian, the language of her own immigrant ancestors.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Linguistics and Lutefisk 28 Feb 2012
By takingadayoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
What a great idea for a book - a language-themed road trip across America. Elizabeth Little is not a linguist, but she has had a lifelong interest in languages. And she has a few thoughts about language.

Little notes that there is a surprising variety of languages in the United States. In New York City alone, hundreds of languages are spoken.

She begins the road trip with Native American languages. She finds that most of them are on their last legs as living languages, and this turns out to be one of the themes for the book. Digging into the history of Native American languages, she finds that there's a disturbing pattern of language discrimination of the sort that occurred when Native American children were discouraged from speaking their home languages. Discouragement often took the form of physical punishment as well as creating a sense of shame about the language. It's what Newt Gingrich would call "the language of the ghetto."

Little finds similar language discrimination in the history of Creole language in Louisiana and Gullah in Georgia. This leads her to conclude that "the history of language in America is ... ultimately a history of language loss."

It's hard to disagree with her conclusion and that language discrimination that takes cruel forms is reprehensible. But not all language change in America has been involuntary. Little is disappointed that descendants of Basque immigrants in Nevada speak only a few words of Basque. Yet she acknowledges that she has never felt compelled to learn Norwegian, the language of her own immigrant ancestors. At a Norwegian-American festival in North Dakota, she is perplexed the old-fashioned and unappetizing preparation of lutefisk, a dried fish, with lye, which was necessary before modern refrigeration methods were available. Continuing to speak Norwegian in North Dakota today would be the linguistic equivalent of lutefisk.

The book seems aimed at a younger audience than me apparently, or at least a more pop culture-oriented audience. References to Jonathan Lipnicki, Jared Leto, and Silent Bob went over my head. The attempts to inject humor seemed forced at times - at one point she finds herself in a diner "scrutinizing the décor in the hope it might suggest to me a particularly clever turn of phrase." Another time she resorts to slapstick, falling on her on her backside while running to catch a tour bus.

On the whole though, there's a lot to enjoy and to think about in A Trip of the Tongue. When Little talks about language, she's quite interesting, sometimes almost professorial, and her enthusiasm for language is irresistible.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun and fascinating language road trip 7 Mar 2012
By Jaylia3 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This fascinating book is a philologically inspired virtual road trip. Author and linguaphile Elizabeth Little traveled 25,000 miles through 46 states in a quest to investigate the history, resiliency and syntactic quirks of languages still spoken in the US. She's out to have fun, whenever possible timing her visits to take advantage of opportunities to celebrate with the locals, but there's also a serious side to language politics and the book ended up having more substance than she originally expected.

Among Little's interests is discovering what it takes for a non-dominant language to survive, and the book begins, naturally enough, with chapters on the states of Montana, Arizona and Washington where Native American languages are still being spoken with varying degrees of fluency. Later chapters cover some of the languages brought over by immigrants and the communities that may or may not care about keeping those languages alive, leading Little to encounter and describe a Basque festival in Nevada, a Norwegian fair in North Dakota, a smelly plague of some grasshopper-like insect in Idaho, zealous fans of Twilight in Oregon, and a Haitian vodou botanica in Miami.

With a more sociological slant than in books written by language professionals Little explores how language choices relate to status, economic privilege, literacy and cultural identity. Her descriptions and the many tangents she goes off on are as witty and irresistible as Bill Bryson's and, while not a linguist, her insights on language and creoles are just about as intriguing and paradigm-rearranging as John McWhorter's.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and informative 7 April 2012
By nashvillegirl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I knew I was going to like this book from the minute the author described herself as "kind of a serial dater when it comes to learning languages" (and here I thought I was the only one!). Elizabeth Little took two years to travel to various areas of the country, searching out different languages in the U.S., their history, their current status, and where they might be heading in the future. Little covers a great deal of ground - from Spanish in New Mexico to Louisiana French to Gullah in South Carolina.

The author has a gift, much like Bill Bryson's, of being able to combine history and facts in a narrative that keeps the reader engaged while being very informative at the same time. Although the reader is learning a lot, the book doesn't feel dry or too much like a textbook, due to the author also sharing personal details about her roadtrip. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the differences among the various forms of Louisiana French and how they developed (and are continuing to transform), and how the relative isolation of North Dakota caused the Norwegian language to last through more generations than usual. At one point in my life, I'm sure I learned at least a little about each of the languages and cultures mentioned in the book, but I had definitely forgotten most of it. This book was an excellent refresher, as well as a great way to learn even more - for example, I have never given much thought to the Basque population in the western U.S, but now, it will be something I think of the next time I visit Nevada.

Recommended for anyone who is interested in languages or in U.S. history.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much trip; not enough tongue 8 Aug 2012
By David Liebsch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was really looking forward to learning more about languages. Just the idea of understanding the roots of Gullah was intriguing. My experience in learning about the cultural underpinnings of the Japanese language had whet my appetite for something similar. But I found myself in a travelogue instead: not an unpleasant eperience, but I'd rather consult Fodor.
4.0 out of 5 stars May want to choose print over e-book for this one. 11 Jun 2014
By Monika - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A "celebration of American multiculturalism," Trip of the Tongue was a fascinating read. Part memoir, part travel book, and a historical and linguistic adventure all rolled in one, Elizabeth Little explores some of the (very numerous!) languages that make up the United States.

Little devotes chapters to several Native American languages, French and Louisiana Creole, Gullah (how did I live in Charleston, South Carolina for six years without learning about Gullah?!), Basque, Norwegian, Haitian Creole, and Spanish, while starting off and concluding with English. As she says in the introduction, "the most interesting story English has to tell . . . is the fact that English is spoken at all."

One complaint I have specific to the ebook version. Even with publisher defaults turned on, whenever Little included charts/images, the font was very, very tiny. I couldn't zoom in, and changing the font size only affected the text around it. Though not terribly frequent, this was content I wanted to read, and there were enough instances to make me wish I'd purchased a print copy.

Little's tone would sometimes shift suddenly between slightly formal and very casual. This is where the memoir feel comes in. It was a bit odd to be reading about history and linguistics (such as the above example) and then come across a phrase like "it was hotter than Satan's sweaty ball sack." Don't get me wrong - I totally laughed. I was just caught off guard. After I got used to these shifts, I was kind of thankful for the breaks the lighter sections gave me.

Trip of the Tongue shows the impact slavery, colonialism, prejudice, and privilege have on language. It also looks into the reasons languages die off, as well as what some communities are doing to prevent that.

If you are half as fascinated with language as I am, you'll love this book!
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