As soon as I saw the new book by Robert Lane Greene You Are What You Speak, I know he and needed to speak. Not just because we both speak Danish (we didn’t even talk about that). It’s mainly because the book takes on so many of the same issues that I do in The World in Words podcast. It’s like the pod on steroids, done with proper research.
Underlying You Are What You Speak is a love of the relative chaos of language. We can’t predict, let alone control how language evolves, Greene argues, so why try? Well, it seems we can’t help ourselves.
Sometimes it’s governments that issue linguistic admonishments: France and Turkey have been especially active. Sometimes it’s individual armchair stylists: Cicero (“At some point…I relinquished to the people the custom of speaking, I reserved the knowledge [of correct grammar and pronunciation] to myself”); Strunk and White (“Do not join independent choices by a comma”); and Lynn Truss (“Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”). Of that lot, Turkey’s switch from Arabic to Roman script appears to have been the most successful. In France, theAcadémie française is admired but largely ignored. And most of the armchair stylists lose out to common usage. The more free, open and democratic a society is, the less it is likely to follow anyone else’s language rules.
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