Pop Culture Homework Assignment for Beth: Language

This summer, I am sharing with Beth something that has been a passion and a profession for me: the study of language. At the end of the month, I will defend my dissertation. If it all goes well, I will have a PhD in linguistics. Language and its study have been a huge part of my life for a long time now, but the details of it haven’t really been something that I have shared with my family. I know that they know what I do, but I worry that they find the discussion of it way too boring. To be honest with you, coming up with this list felt a little self-indulgent and unfair. (So much so that I have a back up assignment, in case she protests and boycotts this one.) But, I love the work that I do and find it exciting, so I have decided to share a little bit of general linguistics with my sister (and anyone who wants to join the challenge!) this summer. The four books I have picked are half non-fiction and half fiction (huge hat-tip is Jessi Grieser on twitter for asking for book suggestions and Gretchen McCulloch for this blog post! It helped me pick the fiction on this list!).

  1. What Language Is: and What it isn’t and what it could be by John McWhorter

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John McWhorter has written a number of pop science on language and I’ve found them to be quite enjoyable. I haven’t read this one, but the reviews suggest that it will be a good introduction to what linguistics is, while also providing some fun trivia about language.

2. Left hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

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I couldn’t resist adding an Ursula K. Le Guin book to the list following our read along last February.  Le Guin uses language in interesting ways in this novel. I look forward to hearing Beth’s thoughts on the book, after having read McWhorter’s thoughts on language.

3. The Last Speakers by K. David Harrison

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Depending on how you count, there are between roughly 6,0007,000 languages in the world. For many of them, the possibility that they will still be spoken in one hundred years is slim. This book highlights that and brings attention to speakers of some vanishing languages.

4.  Embassytown by China Miéville

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Language is at the center of my final selection. Living figures of speech, a unique language humans must be modified to speak. Danger! Catastrophe! Hard choices! So fun. I can’t wait for her to read this.

In fact, I can’t wait to hear what Beth thinks about all of them!

Joint Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

This book had a lot of hype before its release and it was right up both our aisles. So, we both got it on publication day. We decided we would do something different. Instead of only one of us reviewing it or doing two reviews, we’re doing a joint review. We’ve come up with five questions.

What are your overall impressions of the book?

Kate: the writing was tight and the story sucked me in. The characters were great; I loved that they had obvious flaws and strengths. And the premise of the novel, zombies rising during the Civil War was so interesting.

Beth: I agree with you about the writing and being sucked in.  I was invested in the story from the first page.  The characters felt like real people and allowed to be imperfect and unapologetic about their undesirable traits.  And who doesn’t like a good zombie novel?  I think what I liked the most about it that is that we are seeing the aftermath of the Civil War from the perspective of a Black girl instead of a white person.  How many books are from that point of view?

Kate: Not enough.

What did you think of the historical context?

Kate: I like what-if historical novels but I was a little worried about this one. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer already did the paranormal set during the Civil War and it was meh. But, this was so much better. Where Buffy Lincoln changed the context of the Civil War (the South have to be defeated! they’re evil vampires!) this novel leaves the context intact and to it adds zombies. So, we can’t just write off the uncomfortable Civil War context of the bible being used to justify slavery or the ideology that there is a racial hierarchy because oh no! supernatural beings! And, that made it so much more thought provoking and interesting.

Beth: This could have gone bad very quickly but I think she handled the time period well.  I kinda like the fact that the Civil War never really ended, it sort of was put on hold when the zombies started to come from the dead leaving this uneasiness to every day life.  Sure, slavery ended and they passed laws to educate former slaves and Native Americans but as for the racial hierarchy it was never really addressed.  Much like it is today.  Justina Ireland doesn’t shy away from the the injustices against African Americans and Native Americans pre-and post-Civil War and even though Jane and Katherine are educated and can kill any shambler, they will always be reminded of their place.

Kate: Agreed. She definitely didn’t shy away. I also liked the follow up at the end of the book which included readings about residential schools.

Who was your favorite character?

Kate: Jane McKeene. Obviously. She’s a hero. and a role model. I can’t wait to see what Jane gets up to next.

Beth: Agreed Jane McKeene is my hero.  I want to be her friend.  Not only is she smart, sarcastic, likes to read but she can also kill zombies.  That’s so badass!

Kate: I know this is a little early but, Jane McKeene for best character of 2018!

Beth: Indeed.  She’s going to be hard to top.

What was your favorite part?

Kate: Any time Jane and her friend Katherine fight zombies.

Beth: I loved the zombie fights but I think I loved the most the bickering between Jane and Katherine.  The chemistry between those two was amazing and you can see how the relationship developed over the course of the novel.

Kate: their relationship is so good. I really liked that the most developed relationship was their friendship and not a romantic connection.

Beth: exactly! More of female friendships in YA please!

What are you looking forward to in the next book? (possible spoilers)

Beth: I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s in California and finding out who Jane’s Momma married that betrayed her.  I feel like whoever he is, he’s going to be play a bigger part in Jane’s story.  I also hope we get more of Katherine’s backstory beyond being raised in a brothel.

Kate: Yes! More of Katherine’s backstory! Please! Especially with the role that brothels played in Western expansion in the US! And, maybe some gold rushing in Cali? I also hope we meet Jane’s mom and her Aunties. Oh, and I hope we meet Daniel Redfern again.

Beth: Me too!  I think we will meet Jane’s Mom and Aunties again and I want to know more about Daniel Redfern.  I feel we only have cracked the surface of his character.

A Wizard of Earthsea

img_3304 Thanks for reading A Wizard of Earthsea with us this month.  I hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did.  What did you think?  How do you feel it ended?  Why do you think Vetch never made a song of Ged’s journey like his promised?  Are you going to continue and read the rest of the books in the Earthsea Cycle?  Sound off in the comments and let us know what you thought of this classic.

A Wizard of Earthsea, Chapter 5: The Dragon of Pendor

So kids, what do we think so far of our dear Sparrowhawk?  As he sets out of Roke, what will become of him outside of it’s protection?  What do you think of this new, unsure Sparrowhawk?  And who’s excited for some dragons?!

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