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Books & Authors

The Secret Life of Words

Language is our everyday medium of self-expression, and yet we rarely ponder its grammar, symbolism, and evolution. Explore the nuance, dynamics, and hilarity of language—from untranslatable words to emoji—with these books.

The Secret Life of Pronouns : What Our Words Say About Us by James W. Pennebaker

Social psychologist and language expert James W. Pennebaker uses his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics to show that our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concepts, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints. 

 

Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing : Encounters with the Mysteries and Meanings of Language by Daniel Tammet

Tammet goes back in time to London to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood, in Iceland, he learns why the name Blær became a court case, and in Canada, he meets one of the world's most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots, contrives an "e"-less essay on lipograms, and studies the grammar of the telephone. A romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings, Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing explores the way communication shapes reality.

 

Word by Word : The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper

Kory Stamper cracks open the complex, obsessive world of lexicography—from agonizing over what and how to define, to the knotty questions of usage in an ever-changing language. She explains why small words are the most difficult to define (have you ever tried to define "is"?), how it can take nine months to define a single word, and how our biases about language can have tremendous social influence. Stamper brings to life the hallowed halls (and highly idiosyncratic cubicles) of Merriam-Webster, a world inhabited by quirky, erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate.

 

Founding Grammars : How Early America's War over Words Shaped Today's Language by Rosemarie Ostler

Who decided not to split infinitives? With whom should we take issue if we wish to boldly write what no grammarian hath writ before? Standard grammar and accurate spelling are widely considered hallmarks of a good education, but their exact definitions are contentious—capable of inciting a full-blown grammar war at the splice of a comma. With an accessible and enthusiastic journalistic approach, Ostler considers these grammatical shibboleths, tracing current debates back to America's earliest days.

 

The Emoji Code : The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats by Vyvyan Evans

Vyvyan Evans charts the evolutionary origins of language and the social and cultural factors that govern its use, change, and development. In most communication, nonverbal cues are our emotional expression, signal our personality, and show our attitude toward our addressee. But in digital communication, these cues are missing. Evans asserts that emoji fulfill these essential functions, adding emotional tone and nuance, and making us more effective communicators in the digital age.

 

Lost in Translation : An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders

Did you know that the Japanese language has a word to express sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees? Or that there's a Finnish word for the distance a reindeer can travel before needing rest? Lost in Translation brings to life more than fifty words that don't have direct English translations with charming illustrations of their poignant and humorous definitions. Often these words provide insight into cultures, such as the Brazilian Portuguese word for running your fingers through a lover's hair, the Italian word for being moved to tears by a story, or the Swedish word for a third cup of coffee.

 

Lord Sandwich and the Pants Man : An Eponyms and Toponyms Companion by Eamon Evans

Ever wondered who "the Joneses" were? Or what the original "peeping Tom" got up to? There really was a maverick named Maverick and a chauvinist named Chauvin. From history we have Vandals, who were a destructive tribe, and the Zealots, who were an intolerant sect. Eager for more original and entertaining trivia to impress your friends? Eamon Evans' humorous collection of common eponyms shares the stories behind familiar words and phrases.

 

Babel : Around the World in Twenty Languages by Gaston Dorren

Dorren calculates that to speak with half of the world's 7.4 billion people in their mother tongues, you would need to know no fewer than twenty languages. He explores these top twenty languages, from the familiar (French, Spanish) to the surprising (Malay, Javanese, Bengali). Babel whisks the reader on a journey to every continent, tracing how these languages rose to greatness while others fell away. Dorren illustrates that mother tongues are like nations: each has its own customs and beliefs that seem as self-evident to those born into it as they are surprising to the outside world.

 

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

Mark Abley takes the reader from Singapore to Tokyo, from Oxford to Los Angeles, through the Internet and back in time. The Prodigal Tongue goes beyond grammar and vocabulary to discover how language is irrevocably changing the people of the world. Abley encounters bloggers, translators, novelists, therapists, dictionary makers, hip-hop performers, and Web-savvy teens. Everywhere he goes, he asks what the future is likely to hold for the ways we communicate. 

 

 

 

 

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