Language, Power, and Why Dolphins Have Accents

Parul Sehgal at the NY Times:

It’s astonishing that humans are expected to make our way in the world with language alone. “To speak is an incomparable act / of faith,” the poet Craig Morgan Teicher has written. “What proof do we have / that when I say mouse, you do not think / of a stop sign?”

“Don’t Believe a Word,” a new book by the Guardian writer and editor David Shariatmadari, delves into the riddles of language: the opacities, ambushes, dead ends, sudden ecstasies. It’s a brisk and friendly introduction to linguistics, and a synthesis of the field’s recent discoveries. So much more is now known about how language evolves, how animals communicate and how children learn to speak. Such findings remain mostly immured in the academy, however. Our “insatiable appetite for linguistic debate,” Shariatmadari writes, is born out of confusion. “Why do millennials speak their own language? Do the words they choose reflect the fact that they are superficial, lazy, addicted to technology? How can you protect a language against outside influence?

more here.