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Monday, October 17, 2022

Review: Language Families of the World

 I've enjoyed most of John McWhorter's work, so when I saw that Niniane's Goodreads mentioned The Great Courses' Language Families of the World, I searched for it and discovered that my library gave me access through Kanopy.

Kanopy has no download option, and the entire thing was on video, so I watched/listened to it on my FireHD tablet. The audio course definitely walks you through every language family in the world, and corrects any misconceptions you might have about (for instance) the relationship between writing systems and spoken languages. For myself, I used to say that Chinese had no grammar, since there's none of the conjugation, agreement, and prefix/suffix clauses found in Indo-European languages, but McWhorter points out that the numerical classifiers are indeed a form of grammar!

The course focuses mostly on spoken language, and I enjoyed the world tour of various languages, but wished that he spent more time on the details on how linguists discovered the family relationships between languages, and disentangled the difference between languages exchanging words versus being evolved. I learned that there's a language that doesn't have words for numbers!

All this is presented with McWhorter's usual sense of humor and personal history. I enjoyed every minute, even if my retention isn't as good as I wanted it to be. Recommended.

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