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.

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

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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.

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!

Quick Review: Believe Me by Eddie Izzard

eddie Phew!  I did it. I only had about 48 hours to read my DRC and I just barely made it under the deadline.  It helped that those last two days fell on my days off from work.  I’m very glad that I got a chance to read it.  Believe Me was a touching and honest memoir of man who struggled by persevered not just in his career but in his life.  Eddie Izzard is mostly known for his stand up but he is also an actor and transgender.  He talks openly about his sexuality and trying to identify who he is when there really wasn’t a word for it, the loss of his mother when he was six and breaking into the entertainment industry when you have no idea on how to find the door.  He goes step by step throughout his life that lead him to where he is now and those who are familiar with his stand up will notice how many of his chapters are written like his shows.  With a topic and then a short digression into a topic that’s related but not really related before coming back to the original thread.  It’s filled with humor and grief.  Hard times but good times too.  He didn’t have an easy road but it wasn’t all tragedy either.  He owns up to his privilege of growing up in a middle class household.  How the hard work of his father not only inspired him but allowed him to be able to follow his dreams and when he wasn’t able to pay the bills, his father was there to support him.  He talks about the fear of coming out and knowing that it could be the end of his career but how he had to do it.  I don’t think I have ever read a more clear and detailed experience of someone’s coming out.  I think most people see it as it as a one time thing. You Say I’m Gay! and that’s it but really it’s like multiple coming outs.  Once to themselves, then close friends and family and then coworkers and so forth.  To my LGBTQ+ friends, I hope that I have been supportive you and know that I believe that you are all brave for being you.  It’s also a good demonstration that if want something you have to be willing to work for it.  Eddie’s path to success had a lot of failures and a lot of unexpected detours but he used everyone of them to learn and grow and kept at it.  He’s still looking for new challenges like performing his stand up in different languages to connect more with people from different cultures.  Fans of Eddie will love it but I think people looking for inspiration will get a lot out of it too.

Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

wonder woman For a superhero who has outlasted all by Superman, Batman and Captain America, she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves.  She was created to inspire young woman to take up their rightful place in society as her creator William Moultan Marston once stated that in the next 1,000 years, Woman will rule the world.  He wanted a superhero that embody female strength can be just as strong as any man if not stronger. To truly understand Wonder Woman and her place in history, you really have to know who origins and the man (and the women who inspired) who created her.  William Moultan Marston was an heir to a family with a long history.  An only child who was doted on by his mother and four aunts.  His wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, was just as educated as he was and was often the breadwinner of the family and his other wife, Olive Byrne (yep, he had two wives) was once his student and the caretaker.  He was a lawyer and academic.  He invented the lie detector.  He wrote screenplays and worked for Universal Studios during the earlier days of Hollywood.  He was a little bit of everything and a little bit of a mess. He failed as more then he succeeded but all of it culminated in creating Wonder Woman.  Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth was an extension of his life work of seeking truth through his own lie detector machine and research.  Wonder Woman’s bracelets were inspired by his second wife’s, Olive Byrne,bracelet that she wore instead of a wedding ring.  Speaking of Olive she was the niece of Margaret Sanger.  Champion for birth control and founder of Planned Parenthood.  Feminism was strong in the family.  Actually the suffragist movement very much influenced Wonder Woman as the stories and imagery can be seen all over the the early Wonder Woman comic book.  This was a very easy read that goes into the great detail of William Marsters life and highlight moments in his life that he drew upon to create his Amazonian.  It may take a while before you get the actual creation of Wonder Woman but Jill Lepore does a great job of showcasing how people, situations and politics would influence Moultan Marsters and how they ended up in his work.  How an old professor turned into Dr. Psycho.  Or how the art of Lou Rogers inspired story lines.  How the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady shaped Wonder Woman’s character and how his own wives and children breathed life into her as well.  Sadly, it also shows how the Wonder Woman changed after Marster’s death.  Like many women after World War Two, Wonder Woman was forced back into the kitchens even if it went against her origins.  She may have gone completely by the wayside if it wasn’t for Women’s movement in the 60’s and 70’s but even then she wasn’t the same.  It’s sad to see that many of the issues that Wonder Woman faced in the late 30’s and 40’s we are still facing today.  The criticism of her is still charged against many female protagonist of any genre. Progress has been made but we are still so much to go.  You to like this book you don’t know need to know anything about Wonder Woman or even comics to enjoy it.  You just need to have an appreciation for a good story and kick ass woman.