My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“A truly enlightened attitude to language should simply be to let six thousand or more flowers bloom. Subcultures should be allowed to thrive, not just because it is wrong to squash them, because they enrich the wider culture. Just as Black English has left its mark on standard English Culture, South Africans take pride in the marks of Afrikaans and African languages on their vocabulary and syntax.
New Zealand’s rugby team chants in Maori, dancing a traditional dance, before matches. French kids flirt with rebellion by using verlan, a slang that reverses words’ sounds or syllables (so femmes becomes meuf). Argentines glory in lunfardo, an argot developed from the underworld a centyry ago that makes Argentine Spanish unique still today. The nonstandard greeting “Where y’at?” for “How are you?” is so common among certain whites in New Orleans that they bear their difference with pride, calling themselves Yats. And that’s how it should be.”
― Robert Lane Greene, You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity
Readable, funny & informative, this book is not for those who want ammunition to scold the less erudite among us. It welcomes word and syntax changes which refresh the language and help to improve communication.
For those of us who worry about the state of the English language, a reminder that language is not static – it lives and changes as population, technology, and culture changes. Those who fear the influx of non-English speakers will kill the “king’s English” should find comfort in the fact that English has been able to accommodate and embrace these “intrusions” by enlarging its vocabulary and improving the nuance of the language.
Besides being entertained I left the book with a more generous attitude toward other’s language foibles and words that describe questionable phenomenon. Even though it seems that the language is diminished when we accept words like “twerking,” it is actually being augmented – there is no existing word that would otherwise describe this “booty” movement.