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text 2017-01-23 15:34
Dinner Table Talk
Speaking American: How Y'all, Youse , and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide - Josh Katz
You're Saying It Wrong: A Pronunciation Guide to the 150 Most Commonly Mispronounced Words--and Their Tangled Histories of Misuse - Kathryn Petras,Ross Petras

We are a linguistically blended American Family. DH and I grew up in Philadelphia but raised our children in Boston, thus our children speak a mix of regional dialects. Now add to the mix my son-in-law who is from Connecticut.


I brought these two books out at dinner time (dessert actually) and we had a hoot going through both of them, especially the very graphic Speaking American. It was interesting to listening to my children commenting on the various words that they used and didn't use and even more on the words that we used but that they later discovered when they went off to college that nobody else used.


For me, the most interesting page was the one about telling time. How do you say "3:45"? Do you say "Three forty-five" or "Quarter to four" or "Quarter of four" or "Quarter til four"? I decided that I would say "It's quarter to four" but that I would also say "It's quarter of" if not specifying a given hour.


I still haven't sat down to read it cover to cover but sharing it with my adult children was a lot of fun.

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text 2016-10-20 09:42
Language and Space - Lynn Nadel,Mary A. Peterson,Paul Bloom

NR: Bloom et al. (eds.) - Language and Space

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review 2016-08-01 03:51
Invader by C.J. Cherryh
Invader - C.J. Cherryh

Invader picks up pretty much where Foreigner left off. Bren is barely out of surgery before he's called back to work. The starship Phoenix, the one that originally brought humans to the planet, has reappeared, and everyone is concerned. What do the ship folk want? Does Mospheira plan to deal with them and, if so, where does that leave the Treaty with the atevi?

Bren, still in a bit of pain (and, at the very beginning, foggy due to pain killers), finds himself in an extremely difficult position. Deana Hanks, his eventual successor, took over his job after Tabini stashed him away during the events of the previous book, and now she refuses to leave even though it puts her in violation of the Treaty. Hanks and her backers in the State Department believe that Bren has gone native and is no longer looking out for Mospheira's best interests. Hanks would oust Bren and become the new paidhi, except Tabini absolutely refuses to talk to her and would in fact have had her killed already if Bren hadn't specifically asked him not to. Although Bren is now getting much more information from Tabini and his bodyguards than he was in the first book, people are still keeping things from him, and he's almost completely blocked from communicating with the Foreign Office back in Mospheira.

Although he knows that he might be labeled a traitor, Bren offers to act as translator between the ship folk and the atevi. He has to convince the atevi that Mospheira won't automatically betray them in favor of the ship folk, clean up Hanks' political and linguistic messes, and figure out a solution to the ship problem that has the highest chance of being mutually beneficial to Mospheira and the atevi, all while simultaneously dealing with personal crises, terrifying gaps in his knowledge, and assassination attempts.

I read Foreigner a couple months ago and thought it was good, but frustrating. I absolutely loved Invader. The overall story seemed smoother, and Bren finally had the opportunity to show that he was extremely good at his job.

In the first book, Bren was an emotional mess stuck in a situation where his skills as paidhi were less immediately important than his bodyguards' ability to keep him safe. He received little-to-no useful information from anyone and basically had to operate blind. Since he was the POV character, readers had to operate blind too. It was uncomfortable, and I was so relieved to find that things were better in this book. Yes, Tabini's people censored what information they gave him, but they didn't keep him completely in the dark the way they did in the first book. His ability to communicate with Mospheira was hobbled, but he at least got enough information to speculate about what was going on.

I love characters who are really good at their jobs. In this book, Bren got to shine. I loved reading about him figuring out how to explain human thought processes in ways he figured the atevi would understand. I loved seeing the logic behind the arguments he used. I really loved Bren's first real-time translation between the ship folk and the atevi, and the mental and emotional shifts he had to go through in order to do that. Invader provided a bit more detail about how Ragi, the dominant atevi language worked –  a combination of the usual vocabulary and grammar, plus a crap ton of mental math. Speaking of which, I was surprised that Bren didn't tell the ship folk that whichever person they assigned to learn Ragi should ideally be excellent at math.

Bren was at least as much of an emotional mess in this book as he was in the first one, but I enjoyed it more here – again, seeing him be good at his job helped a lot. The stuff with Barb was only a matter of time, anyway, and it was a relief to get it over and done with. Bren's emotional meltdowns were understandable considering the amount of stress he was under (and the amount of pain he was often in, plus his lack of sleep), and he very carefully made sure that those meltdowns only showed in front of the atevi he trusted most. And his "meltdowns" weren't actually all that bad compared to some of the things Hanks did. Refusing to pick up when Bren called her? Insisting on speaking Mosphei' so that she could snarl at Bren in front of an atevi audience? No wonder Tabini wanted to kill her.

Bren's desire to trust certain atevi led to additional problems, as he found himself fighting his instinct to assign human motivations to atevi behavior. He got along well with Tabini, Banichi, Jago, Tano and others, but him liking them and them seeming, from a human perspective, to like him didn't mean that they wouldn't one day do something that would seem to him like betrayal. He grappled with the possibility that Tabini and Ilisidi were using his human-ness against him, acting in ways they knew would cause him to drop his guard and trust them with more than he possibly should.

And then there was the stuff with Jago. That would be ethically and professionally problematic if he were a diplomat among humans, and certainly the people back in Mospheira wouldn't react well. Among atevi, he had no clue how any of it would be interpreted. I'm torn. On the one hand, I'm all “No, Bren, no!” On the other hand, I'm looking forward to the possibility of getting a better peek into atevi emotional lives. I want more than Bren's staff's reaction to him giving them gifts, Bren's unintentional popularity with atevi women, and even Tabini and Damiri's fascinating domestic squabble.

I suppose you could say this book was slow, but Bren's internal worrying, panic, and mental gymnastics made the pacing feel much faster than it was. At any rate, I enjoyed the story, the characters, the politics, the linguistic and cultural details, and the relationships, even when I had trouble following all the details. I'm glad I already have the second book, and I suspect I should put in an order for the next story arc soon.


  • Pronunciation guide (I'm resigned to forever mentally pronouncing Jago's name incorrectly - my brain seems to be unwilling to follow what the guide says is correct)
  • Declension of a sample noun
  • Glossary


(Original review, including read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-07-26 21:14
The First Signs / Genevieve von Petzinger
The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols - Genevieve von Petzinger

Imagine yourself as a caveman or woman. The place: Europe. The time: 25,000 years ago, the last Ice Age. In reality, you live in an open-air tent or a bone hut. But you also belong to a rich culture that creates art. In and around your cave paintings are handprints and dots, x’s and triangles, parallel lines and spirals. Your people know what they mean. You also use them on tools and jewelry. And then you vanish—and with you, their meanings.

Join renowned archaeologist Genevieve von Petzinger on an Indiana Jones-worthy adventure from the open-air rock art sites of northern Portugal to the dark depths of a remote cave in Spain that can only be reached by sliding face-first through the mud. Von Petzinger looks past the beautiful horses, powerful bison, graceful ibex, and faceless humans in the ancient paintings. Instead, she’s obsessed with the abstract geometric images that accompany them, the terse symbols that appear more often than any other kinds of figures—signs that have never really been studied or explained until now.

Part travel journal, part popular science, part personal narrative, von Petzinger’s groundbreaking book starts to crack the code on the first form of graphic communication. It’s in her blood, as this talented scientist’s grandmother served as a code-breaker at Bletchley. Discernible patterns emerge that point to abstract thought and expression, and for the first time, we can begin to understand the changes that might have been happening inside the minds of our Ice Age ancestors—offering a glimpse of when they became us.


I’ve been fascinated with cave art since I was about 11 or 12 years old. I blame Children’s Digest. I don’t know who started my subscription to that periodical, but it started quite an assortment of interests which I still read about whenever possible. I distinctly remember a story about a young girl who fell in a hole in Spain and accidentally discovered the Altimira cave system, with its profusion of cave paintings.

So imagine my frenzied fangirl squee-ing when I discovered that one of the leading researchers into the meaning of the abstract & geometrical cave paintings & engravings is a woman and a Canadian. Colour me impressed. And she’s young—there will be more to come from this researcher.

Studying the symbols in cave art seems to be a field whose time has come. This book is partially a travelogue, detailing many of the caves that the author has explored and the symbols recorded. Now that computers are up to the task of keeping track of age, place and position of each symbol, patterns can be discerned and intriguing theories can be concocted. The author is careful to tell us that she hasn’t “translated” these signs yet, but progress is being made. I think it is incredible that there are only 32 basic signs used and that they show pattern and purpose.

One of her most interesting theories is that this “vocabulary” of symbols came with the first humans to Europe and wasn’t invented on the spot. Researchers must turn their eyes back to Africa to see if the beginnings of this tradition can be sussed out.

Also of note (although disappointing to me personally), is that these symbols are probably not entoptic phenomena (visual effects that have their genesis in the eye with no outside stimulation). I’ve seen entoptic effects during visual migraines and they are frightening until you realize what they are. They are flashing arrows, zigzags, circles, Xs, etc. that (for me anyway) were produced when my neck muscles clenched so tightly that input to the optic nerve was cut off. Not only did I think I was going blind, but I was seeing neon-flashing symbols! An earlier theory had postulated that cave artists were merely transcribing their own entoptic symbols from either the sensory deprivation of long, dark cave meditations or from drug-induced trances. The statistics just don’t support this interpretation, however, as the symbols aren’t evenly spread. Unless these cave artists just ignored some symbols, they should all be represented.

A very enjoyable read, clearly written and accessible to those of us who haven’t been keeping up with the research in the field. Now, more than ever, seeing some original cave art is on my bucket list.

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text 2016-02-21 16:19
Descriptive Grammar
The Atoms Of Language: The Mind's Hidden Rules Of Grammar - Mark C. Baker

Murder by Death, this one might interest you because it is about the rules of grammar. Not the proscriptive rules that we learn in school but the rules that can be used to describe all languages, the cascade of choices that makes each language what it is. Why subject pronouns are mandatory in French but not in Spanish. Why Germans put the verb last and all sorts of other fascinating things that are part of all languages.


This was the 'textbook' for a course that I took some years ago. I found it fascinating but I also know that I would not have gotten through it without the professor leading us through chapter by chapter.  I keep promising myself that one day I will pick it up again to re-read.



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