Most helpful positive review
52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
Consistent, insightful, brilliantly written and a joy to read
on 27 September 2009
I have been sporadically dipping into the 'linguistics for laypeople' market for the last few years, but in this book I think I have found precisely what I have been looking for.
The book uses a very simple idea to explain the evolution of language; analogy (working out 'rules' from other words), expressiveness (emphasis etc) and economy (plain laziness). He uses these rules to explain almost every facet of human communication, and will hopefully convert many grammar pedants! If there is a moral to this story, it is that language is defined by the people who use it, not purely by convention and what has come before. Language is not deteriorating as has been the lament of many scholars past and present, it is evolving and changing, though the forces of destruction are more apparent than those of creation!
As a learner of Korean and Chinese, reading this book has given me knew insight on these languages' use of certain sentence orders, constant use, tone use and irregularities in conjugations etc, which I find absolutely fascinating and has made me realise that learning a language is not like hacking into a dark and random jungle armed only with a blunt penknife, but that there is rhyme and reason behind everything if only you stop to look!
The only part of this book I felt somewhat uneasy reading was the final chapter, where he traces a possible path from the 'man throw spear' stage of language to the verbosity of modern speech. Since it deals with pre-historical development, it is wild conjecture; though to be fair to Deutscher he does include a disclaimer before the chapter!
Not only is the content fascinating, the presentation of the book and the style of language are also laudable. It is accessible without ever being patronising, and the purpose of the chapters are always clearly explained and at the end tied into the overall theme of the book, i.e. the three drivers of human language mentioned above. For this the author deserves high praise as it helps readers through some somewhat heavy topics!
Overall, this is an absolutely fantastic book on linguistics, accessible to the interested laymen, though it may not hold a purely casual reader. By far the best book I have read on the subject so far, and it has spurred me to read many more!