Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English by Mark Abley

Originally posted Thursday, October 15, 2009

Well-written and surprisingly up to date, this Canadian author has introduced how the dictionary is an ongoing work, never to be finished, as the English language appears to take handsprings of changes at any given mini-decade to produce new words and change those of the past. He smoothly takes us through the many adaptations of English as determined by countries around the world.

I found the historic asides of the many languages around the globe to be exceptionally interesting, especially the history of the Japanese language. I particularly enjoyed one of the comments about a current phrase in Japanese/English: "a new Japanese phrase meaning 'to visit Tokyo Disneyland,' nezumi shibaku, literally means 'to flog the mouse.'" Now, isn't that a logical translation? What else is Disneyland and the Disney empire doing but "flogging the mouse". Wonderful.

This is not only a book about the "takeover" of the English language but also delves into how we perceive other cultures in the world of today. Very differently from the past, I learned. The new English as spoken in other countries is often based on the music lyrics, computer technology, texting, slang, and many other cultural symbology. Yet, each country adds some part of its own language either as a tag-on or mixed in one sentence. Books and movies presenting the imagined future of the earth also come into play. Some from science-fiction, some from today's outlook on a probable future. The reader would not find it difficult to think of many words that were not in use as recently as 10 years ago, and this changes almost daily in our rapid communication of internet, blogs, texting, email, et al.

On the other hand, within the past 50 years many words have gone out of style or taken on entirely different meanings. Just try watching an old 1940s/50s movie! Even in this new century the same could be said. Some words stick, others just disappear or remain localized.

Personally, I found this book enjoyable and informative. It was entirely readable, not dry or academic. This book was written for anyone with an interest in how even language can change at home and abroad, and how much impact the English language now has globally.

No comments: