John McWhorter’s The Power of Babel is a pop linguistics book, but it’s not one of those tendentious books about English grammar and descriptivist/prescriptivist blather, it’s instead a book about how languages change and evolve over time. It talks about different traits of different languages (my favorite discovery is that some languages make evidentiary markers — that is, how you know something — part of grammar), about how grammatical constructs evolve in the first place, about how languages change into other languages, how pidgins form and how they sometimes change into creoles, about how linguists reconstruct proto-languages, and more.

The material is fascinating to start with, and McWhorter’s writing is excellent — and surprisingly funny; I laughed out loud a number of times — and I’m forced to recommend this book extremely highly. The one caveat is that, of course, I’m no linguist myself and it’s possible that McWhorter is completely off-base and expressing his own controversial and idiosyncratic opinions. I have no way of knowing, but it doesn’t feel like that’s true, so.


{{}} said {{timeAgo(comment.datetime)}}