Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Category: 410s

419: Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American Sign Language by Scott Liddell

DDC_419

419.705: Liddell, Scott K. Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American Sign Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 362 pp. ISBN 0-521-81620-3

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 410: Linguistics
  • 419: Sign Languages
  • 419.7: American Sign Language
  • 419.705: Grammar and syntax of ASL

Until the 1950s, the signing language that deaf Americans used to communicate with each other was even considered a real language at all. William Stokoe, teaching at Gallaudet University (a school for the deaf), after taking a crash course in signing and watching his students, came to realize that was a full-fledged language. There are a finite number of hand shape, but when combined with position, motion, and facial expression, users can communicate an almost infinite variety of words and concepts. Scott Liddell’s Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American Sign Language is a veritable crash for us all and a window into a world seldom explored until absolutely necessary.

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414: The Music of Everyday Speech by Ann Wennerstrom

DDC_414

414.6: Wennerstrom, Ann. The Music of Everyday Speech: Prosody and Discourse. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001. 263 pp. ISBN 0-19-514321-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 410: Linguistics
  • 414: Phonology and phonetics of standard forms of language
  • 414.6: Suprasegmental features

Ann Wennerstrom’s premise is a simple one: you need to properly hear a language to understand it. Languages have a tone, a pitch, and a musicality that is crucial to its analysis. This musicality is called a language’s prosody. Don’t worry if you’re already feeling drowned in technical jargon. Wennerstrom’s Music of Everyday Speech does a decent (if not terrific) job of helping the lay person understand her particular brand of linguistic analysis. She uses stress charts, vocal recordings, and scientific analysis to get at the heart of our language. Because the book is written in English, her results are limited to the English language, but it is interesting nonetheless. Her findings help support her theory that prosody helps to organize language almost as much as grammatical rules. She also brings in other contributors to help break up any potential monotony. One of these contributors (Heidi Riggenbach) takes a look at a person’s efforts in a second language and how their prosody is affected by their fluency in the language. This one’s a fairly dense that could easily get too tedious/boring for the average reader. I recommend it only if you’re in the field.

418: After Babel by George Steiner

DDC_418

418: Steiner, George. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation. N.p.: Open Road, 2013. Approx. 520 pp. E-Book.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 410: Linguistics
  • 418: Standard usage and applied linguistics

All speech is an act of translation. We need to transmit the ideas in our head to another person, and so must translate the thought into words. This act of translation forms the fundamental basis for how people interrelate. But what if the two people do not speak the same language? The translation has to be translated again in order to get the recipient to understand. It is these two translations that interest George Steiner in After Babel.

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417: Holy Sh*t by Melissa Mohr

DDC_417

417.2: Mohr, Melissa. Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013. 258 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-974267-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 410: Linguistics
  • 417: Dialectology and historical linguistics
  • 417.2: Dialectology

This isn’t a very easy book to discuss without offending someone. The author even says so much in the introduction. Invariably, in a discussion about swear words, someone will reach their tolerance for vulgarity. Every language in the world has words that are taboo, obscene, graphic, or blasphemous. This goes beyond simple impoliteness; swear words are those that Steven Pinker says “kidnap our attention and force us to consider their unpleasant connotations.” These words steal us from our lives. The longer the period of arrest, the worse the word. Melissa Mohr’s Holy Shit is a unabashed exploration of the evolution of swearing in English, from their Latin beginnings to modern slurs and expletives.

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413: The Man Who Made Lists by Joshua Kendall

413.092: Kendall, Joshua. The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008. 284 pp. ISBN 978-0-399-15462-1.

Dewey Construction:

  • 400: Languages
  • 410: Linguistics
  • 413: Dictionaries of standard forms of language
  • +092: Biography

Today, I have a special treat for you: two posts in one day. I stayed up late last night finishing this one and the next one is short enough that I should be able to knock it this afternoon. The good thing is, now that I’ve promised two reviews, I feel a growing desire to ensure I keep that promise. Here goes…

When you encounter the language section of the Dewey, a mild form of anxiety sets in—you have to read about dictionaries and word usage and (gasp!) grammar. But, language is really about people. Without them, there’s no language and no structure and no word for “the smell just after the rain” (which is petrichor). So, inevitably, reading about language leads to reading about people. Today’s first book is just that.

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