Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Unfolding of Language.

I finished reading this book yesterday, and I'm always happy to add another language related book to my list of finished books. Most of them end up in a pile, waiting patiently while I read what's on the curriculum for whatever class I'm taking :-) When people recommend books to me, I tend to read them somewhat quicker though.

I very much enjoyed this book, but I have a couple of complaints to make.

The book mainly deals with different structures in languages and tries to explain how they could have come about. For example, where does the Arabic verb stem system come from? Why are small, isolated languages so incredibly complex? Why do all languages seem to have been more perfect in the past? And so on. Very interesting questions, and the book is very nicely written, with amusing examples. However, at the end there are a couple of appendixes that just seems to be stuff that wouldn't fit in the normal chapters, and I think it makes the book feel a bit unstructured. I also didn't feel like it really had an end. It just ended, but it could probably have gone forever, since he could have continued explaining similar things for hundreds of pages.

What is worse though, is that all of a sudden in the book there is a very long discussion between a linguist (I think) and a moron. The linguist tries to explain how words can shift from one category to another (like from noun to preposition) and the moron refuses to understand. I just couldn't wait until that discussion was over, only to discover it was taken up again in one of the appendixes. It really annoyed me, and it kind of made my impression of the book a bit more negative than necessary.

However, I do recommend it to anyone interested in languages! It's written for people without any extensive linguistic expertise, so it's also the kind of book you can bring to the beach. If you go to the beach. I personally prefer my balcony.


  1. I've been wondering about some of those questions, perhaps I should check if the book is available in the local library. Although to me it seems that, at least the Indo-European languages, tend to get simpler (or more analytical) in time rather than "less perfect".

  2. I´m reading it now, I will tell you something when I´m done :)