Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little (thoughts)
As someone who studied a bit of linguistics and a lot of language in college, I couldn’t resist requesting Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little when I saw it on Netgalley. Fortunately I downloaded a copy early, because Bloomsbury USA archives their egalleys before their publication date! Anyway, the book is about a series of road trips Little took over the course of a year all over the continental US in search of non-English language communities. Almost inevitably, a book about minority language Americans is going to include some political and racial dimensions. While Little is white (her ancestry is Norwegian, which comes up in the book!), she doesn’t shy away from acknowledging racial and linguistic privilege, which was refreshing. She also clearly delights in linguistic diversity, and her love for the strange little quirks each language has really shines through. Her personality is very much in evidence throughout, and I imagine she’d make a fun dinner party guest!
Trip of the Tongue combines three of my favourite things: linguistics, travel, and social justice, so I very much enjoyed it! Little has a humorous, self-deprecating writing style that reminded me of Bill Bryson, and the book is light enough that I think even those who aren’t huge fans of nonfiction would enjoy it (I suspect it’d be especially good for memoir fans looking to branch out a bit). It’s as much as travelogue as a popular linguistics book, so fans of travel writing should definitely check it out, and there’s even a section about Forks, Washington. ;) For me, it was a four-star read rather than five-star because I prefer my nonfiction a bit ‘harder’ (aka not so many pop culture references and perhaps an author with a more formal linguistics background), but I still really liked it and bookmarked all sorts of interesting pages! I’m sure one of these days I’ll pick up her first book, Biting the Wax Tadpole.
Suggested Companion Reads
- In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent (If you want more pop linguistics, this is a really fun, interesting book that I read last year and loved but didn’t manage to blog about; I think it’d especially appeal to all of the school overachievers, since Okrent is unabashed about her nerdiness. I’ve linked to the book’s website since I don’t have a review.)
- In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (Since I mentioned him! This is another roadtrip travelogue, about Australia.)
- What Language Is by John McWhorter (McWhorter is one of my favourite popular linguistics authors, and this titles spends quite a bit of time on creoles, which Little also discusses.)
- Translation Nation by Hector Tobar (Not a linguistics book, despite its title, but a really fascinating account of Latino culture in the US, which does include a look at language issues. I didn’t agree with everything Tobar said, but I enjoyed reading this one!)