bookcover: 
What Language is bookcover
Author: 
John McWhorter
Publisher: 
Penguin Group
Genre: 
Non-fiction_: 
Rating: 
6
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781592406258

Description of Sales Url: 
Purchase from Penguin
Review: 

Every speaker is a student of language, even if it is not our intent. But this is a book for the general student of linguistics. I can't believe I am saying "general" because I've never seen anyone go more into specifics than John McWhorter. He makes a general study of a whole juxtaposition of a variety of languages for the writer who is fascinated by the anthropology of linguistic development. Bear in mind, this book it is rather heavy, and overwhelmingly leaded with obscure trivia. If you are not frightened off by the idea of subconjugations in Ket, and the (illustrations of) grammar and impossibility of figuring out five tenses of Navaho—Verbing may weird English but who knows what it does to Navaho—If you're not scared off, maybe you're potentially an anthropological linguist and this book will be your friend.

From the beginning, McWhorter rhapsodizes about the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of Archi, and click languages, and the strange grammatical constructions of obscure tongues almost no one speaks and one would think would be impossible to master. He submerges the reader in characteristics of languages so that we can hardly keep up with all the strange detail. But right at the point when this barrage of detail seems absolutely pointless, he talks about his five signal characteristics of language, (Ingrown, Dissheveled [sic], Intricate, Oral, Mixed). He illustrates with specific detail how languages evolve, how their complexities develop or decline. He also makes a point that when languages are spoken by a few people over time, they become more complex, but when spoken by larger groups for longer time, they get (or stay) dumbed down when influxes of new speakers learn simpler versions of the language. When languages are learned by adults they are dumbed down generationally—as opposed to the small, isolated communities that develop complex languages which can only be learned by children with their aptitude of language. He ranges in topic from the development of classifiers in Chinese and Cantonese, to the number of words for snow in Eskimo, to fetishes in Kikuyu that make it unlearnable to non-native speakers. He examines how an island language lost prefixes and suffixes when foreign adult speakers arrived and imperfectly learned and passed on the language. As an unwritten language, the old version would not, as McWhorter says it, have it's foot in the door. Such developmental hiccups allow the historian a foothold in muddling through the history of language.

Oh if this review seems clotted and lumpy, that is pretty much how I feel after reading What Language Is. There is so much detail that the content feels obscure and sluggish, even if an ambitious attempt is made to present the transformation and growth and development of language as both holistic and in a constant evolution. I did find it heavily academic, plus the electronic version I had was so badly formatted in places that I had difficulty figuring out if that was a misplaced footnote or some text was missing or extra. That may have been because I read on a kindle, or because it was an arc. Here and there were a smattering of illustrative stories and some sense of John McWhorter's charm, but the design suffers from academic overload and unclear organization. McWhorter is probably a humdinger in the classroom, but this tome suffers from a sense of massive density where it should be sharp and pointed. Not a must read in any sense, but of interest to linguists, especially in this age of dwindling care about language. At the risk of labeling myself a rube and a philistine, I must admit reading the last pages with respect for the depth and breadth of McWhorter's linguistic knowledge and a promise to myself to read the rest of his work after it has been edited. (This was an early arc.)

bookcover: 
Author: 
John F Dobbyn
Publisher: 
Oceanview Publishing
Action-Adventure: 
Rating: 
8
ISBN/ASIN: 

9781933515939

Description of Sales Url: 
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Review: 

Neon Dragon is the second book by John F Dobbyn that I have read but it is first in the series, unless the author plans to pull a "Star Wars" and publish events wildly out of order. I inadvertently flipped the reading order only because book two came to me first. I know it happens to everyone—discovering book two or three (etc) after a series has already gotten rolling. In this case, both volumes do stand alone. This legal thriller series centers around the cases of Boston lawyer, Michael Knight. The way Dobbyn handles backstory (in book two) was something of an unwanted revelation to me to take back to my own writing, and still may lead to my switching a story to first person, and losing masses of backstory by converting into anecdotal "partner" conversation. I was surprised how little I had to know about Knight to accept him.

Some of that mysterious backstory comes out in Book One.

As the first book, Neon Dragon answers a few questions I had about Knight's history, and especially his history with his mentor Lex Devlin. Some of that backstory was deftly sidestepped (in book 2) because it had been handled already in Neon Dragon and to be honest, I didn't miss it. Being the first in a series, certain things about the character simply must come to light, and although I do appreciate the deftness with which Dobbyn handles some of this inevitable backstory, I'm still on the fence about how much is essential. He does an excellent job on the slow reveal, and packs in a few surprises at every turn.

We learn that Juvenile Michael is caught in his first criminal act for a street gang and is on the brink of a life of crime when provided a straight and narrow and uphill path by a criminal trial attorney who teaches Michael how to set high goals and achieve them.

Neon Dragon establishes certain key and reoccurring characters including Michael Knight of course, his mentor Lex Devlin, the District Attorney and "First Lady of Prosecution" Ms. Lamb, Mike's college friend Harry Wong, and a few others. It also establishes Michael as being able to slip in and out of various worlds—although not the world of Chinatown—because of a Puerto Rican mother and a white father, and casts light on his rocky childhood (with an emphasis on the hood).

In Neon Dragon, while in the middle of a trial, a prominent judge finagles Michael into defending his son Anthony who was wrongly accused of shooting ancient Chen An-Young in Chinatown. It's kind of the legal equivalent of a "cute meet," which is to say, an unusual but interesting way to be introduced to the crime that will make up the body of this story. What follows is a glimpse into the inscrutable criminal underbelly of Boston's Chinatown, where nothing is what it seems. It is a glimpse that is believable and entertaining, stays far enough from the courtroom to avoid legalese-tainted boredom, and close enough to the characters to be practically un-put-downable (a terrible word, but one most authors would love to find in a review.)

These are the things I like about this book: the solid team, the sense of place, the action integrated with what feels like solid legal know-how, the who-what-where-why done-it placing it solidly in its genre. The lilt and lift of the story, however, is all due to the uniqueness and compelling charm of Michael Knight's voice: a little naive, a little foolhardy, a little braver than he ought to be, a little more musical, and a lot more sarcastic. Grisham had better beware. John Dobbyn's humor, pacing, and turn of phrase just may knock Grisham out of the front seat of the legal thriller roller coaster.

By the time you read this, Novelspot will have already started celebrating the grand opening of its official domain, novelspot.net. It's been a long, long time in coming, but I'm happy, even thrilled, to say that the site looks terrific. More than that, it's functional (emphasis on fun).

Until now, Novelspot has mostly been involved in the review of romance and erotica books, but that ends with our grand opening, because I'm in charge of the speculative fiction section of the site, which means you're in good hands (or tentacles, when I'm not in my human form).

Submitted by Nage on Sun, 2005-05-15 08:11.
...there was Novelspot. Floating in a void called the Internet; turning slowly in the dark crawlspaces of the mind. And Allie looked upon Novelspot and said, "This needs work, for surely, this site does suck." And so Allie summoned an angel to help her. Erika looked upon the face of Novelspot and said unto Allie, "Needs work. You take the right half and I'll take the left half (after I take a couple of painkillers; my ankle is killing me). And this they did and it was good.

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