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Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages Hardcover – 1 Aug 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 1 Aug 2003
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Academic) (Aug. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061823649X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618236497
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,144,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Riveting... learned, thought-provoking, bouncing with ideas, yet funny and wry... Inspiring" (Independent)

"A fascinating and addictive book. It is more than that: it is a lucid, often eloquent journey through the crumbling linguistic foundations of humanity" (Daily Telegraph)

"Unusually penetrating and astute" (Spectator)

"An essential read" (Guardian)

"Powerful and important... Compelling'" (Sunday Times) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Shortlisted for the Pearson Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize in 2004. One of the most critically-acclaimed non-fiction titles of 2004, both fascinating and moving, this is award-winning journalist Mark Abley's story of his travels to visit the world's dying and threatened languages and the people who speak them. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
This book is part travelogue, part linguistic study but predominantly a gripping story that is set across the entire globe. There are many thousands of languages in the world but it seems we will be left with 20 or so in a hundred years time if present trends continue. And its not just obscure languages of the remote regions that are threatened with Abley considering whether Dutch, French and German can survive encroaching Anglicisation. This, however, is not the main thrust of the book; rather he is concerned with threatened languages that are in various states of health. For example Mati Ke which is spoken by two elderly aboriginals in Australia and will soon only exist on cassettes and CD Rom and Yuchi which has a dwindling number of Native American speakers. These are contrasted with languages that are fighting back such as Manx or Faroese and those that have resisted destruction like Welsh.
Abley describes himself as a poet and a journalist and the former comes shining through in the accessible and lyrical writing style. In each of the long chapters where he focuses and one of the languages he successfully creates an image of the people and places in which the language lives and carefully ties that to the history and future of the language. He is respectful of the people he meets but rightly critical of some of the practices he encounters. Interspersed with the long chapters are shorter ones which give some of the background behind language and its study and act as a smooth segue between the longer chapters. These too are written accessible and never dull you with linguistics or academics.
If you are interested in the way language works and are as hopelessly monolingual as I am you should read this book; it will encourage you to get back into evening school and dust of those ‘teach yourself …’ books and have another go at sustaining language diversity.
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