Review: Embassytown by China Mieville

9780345524508_p0_v1_s550x406 The last book of my Pop Culture Assignment and I don’t even know where to begin.  There is a lot going on and I think it needed a glossary for all the new terms he made up for this world.  Our Protagonist Avice, is an immerser that knows how to control the immer but it was never really explained what that is but it has to do with space travel.  Her ability allowed her to leave Embassytown and return but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Avice is from a colony in the middle of nowhere.  There lives an mysteries species called the Hosts that have a peculiar way of communication called language.  Only few people know and few can speak it.  The few who can are Ambassadors are two people modified to think as one.  It’s complicated.  Avice has a rare place in language as she was once used as a simile.  The Hosts can not lie.  They can only speak the truth so for something to be said it must has a place in the world so they make people or things a simile to help explain things.  It’s very complicated.  Anyway, Avice leaves Embassytown only to return with a new husband who is a linguist and seems more interested in language than Avice but whatever.  As soon as they return things get crazy.  The end of the world crazy.  The nation that oversee them decides to bring in their own Ambassador and well, things don’t go as planned and all hell breaks loose.

It was an interesting read but it was very confusing.  I felt like so many things that were left unexplained like the immer that we are just expected to understand.  Language too is very complicated that it does take the whole book to understand but that also might have been the point.  It took a while to get into because the world building was immense and once I got past that I really enjoyed it.  I was still left confused on several things but still enjoyed it.

Review: The Last Speakers by K. David Harrison

9781426204616_p0_v2_s550x406 My pop culture assignment from Kate is to delve into her world as a linguist. Linguistics has been referred to as a social science.  What does that mean exactly?  The first book, What Language is by John McWhorter was more of the scientific side of the linguistics, explaining what they look for when they study languages.  How languages are built and how they became to be and continue to develop. The Last Speakers is the social side of linguistics by discussing why the study of languages are important to understanding who we are and the world around us.  Both aspects are important to discover how we communicate to each other.  K. David Harrison set out to study endangered languages because the knowledge of the natural world they contain that we have lost by no longer speaking them.  He learns from indigenous people words that describes the world around us.  How they can speak or sing to animals to get them do what they need them to do.  Plant life that are now extinct.  Medicinal methods that have vanished in the wake of modern medicine.  If we lose these last speakers we lose more than just a language being spoken.  We lose a great deal of our own knowledge of our world that we will never get back.  The book reads like a travel memoir as he details his work around the globe but it’s also a plea to the world to not abandon these languages.  He and his team document these languages and do everything then can to keep these languages alive long after the last speakers pass away but also bring to light new or remembered words of our past.  I like that he isn’t to be the white savior.  He goes to observe and document and help where he can.  He defers to the people in how they want to documented.  Not all people want their languages to be shared with outsiders and he understands their reasoning without judgment.  It’s their language and culture and they should have the final say on who gets to know it and learn it.  It was an interesting book, with some great stories and I’m fully support more documentation of last speakers from all over the world.  We have so much more to learn.

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

9780441478125_p0_v2_s550x406I’m not sure where to begin because there is so much here and hard to explain.  The assignment is examine how Ursula K. Le Guin uses language to tell her story.  The language is very lush and full of descriptions of the strange world of Winter.  A harsh world that is like living on the Artic in our world.  The people of this world are gender neutral and assexual for most of the life except for when they are in “kemmer” where partner with another person in “kemmer” and could be female or male depending on things went.  They could be the a father to one child and mother to another.  Le Guin uses the “he” pronoun for all the Getheren even though they are not male or female.  I believe it was used more simplistic reasons then insinuated that they are more male most of the time then female. It was hard as the reader to understand that, that when “he” was being used it wasn’t that the character was a male but a Genthen.

Genly Ai is an evnoy for the Ekumen.  He has come to Winter to try to get an alliance with them but things don’t go as planned.  Through out the novel he is mislead , betrayed and betrays himself.  He is lead throughout the novel by the Estrevan, first as Prime Minister and then as friend.  Ai has trouble first trusting him as he doesn’t understand where he is coming from.  Is he a friend or foe?  Ai also had to get over the human thinking of people as only one gender, which he struggles with as much as the reader does, I think.  Over time they become friends and maybe more as they work together to get the alliance done.  This was a beautifully written novel that I’m glad I read it because I don’t think ever read anything like it.

Review: What Language is by John McWhorter

what language is You know when you meet someone who loves what they do so much that when they talk about it they get so excited about it even though you have absolutely no idea what they are talking about but you are so taken in by their enthusiasm that it doesn’t matter.  This is often how I feel when Kate talks about Linguistics.  She gets so excited and her face lights up and it’s just so Kate that I want to know what she’s talking about and be just as excited as she is.  John McWhorter is the same way.  I can feel his excitement on the page as he talked about one language after another.  I’ll admit that there were a few things I still don’t understand but I think I get the gist.  It’s interesting on how languages evolve and change over centuries.  Obviously I knew that the English we speak today is not the English that was spoken in Shakespeare’s day or even Chaucer’s but never really thought about it how we got to where we are now.  Basically, adults needed to be able to communicate but were unable to grasp some on the complexities of the language so they simplified it and taught it to their kids and so forth and so on.  It’s kind of amazing.  I basically learned that the more people who speak a language over centuries, the less complicated it is.  If you speak a language that only a few know and have all learned from childhood it’s going to be more complicated it because adults from the outside have little use to learning it to communicate it.  I’m probably oversimplifying it but that’s fascinating.  He makes arguments for what languages are categorized and how our own biases make us judge languages and what are real languages and what are not. Does it have to be written? Spoken by a certain number of people?  Have it’s own grammar?  Follow certain rules?  All very interesting questions that I really can’t do justice answering but say read the book and get suck into his excitement and enthusiasm while you are at it.

What I’m Reading Now: What Language is by John McWhorter

what language is

Well Kate is almost finished with her homework assignment so I guess I better get going on mine.  Pretty excited to dive into my sister’s world.