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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The English Virus, 23 Dec. 2003
This review is from: Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages (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. Finally, the prose—despite noble efforts to inject humor at times—remains rather dry throughout. Some of the chapters run on and on, and would have benefited from judicious editing.
Still, it's hard to fault a book on such an important topic, and the mix of sociology, travelogue, linguistics, and history is probably the best approach to the topic. Recommended for those with a deep interest in the whole wide world and/or language, others may find it slow going.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Nov 2008 12:46:19 GMT
Seonaidh says:
He does mention Latin extinguishing the Celtic language of Gaul. As to 'dryness', i found his style engaging and humourous, if not dryly sarcastic at times.

It's an excellent book. I wonder what he'd make of Scotland's Gaelic speakers and learners!

Posted on 14 May 2014 17:38:55 BDT
Pauline K. says:
I agree the book would have benefited from judicious editing. If the author had gone on to discuss how Latin smothered the indigenous languages of western Europe, the book would have been twice as long! But an interesting idea of yours nonetheless.
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