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Don't Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth About Language

David Shariatmadari, an editor at the Guardian, debunks nine astonishingly frequent linguistic myths in Don't Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth about Language. Each chapter focuses on a frequently heard misstatement about language. Some of these, such as "Language is going to the dogs," "I control what comes out of my mouth" and "You can't translate this word" are so common that people may not even realize that they are in fact myths, until Shariatmadari shows their flaws.

A firm anti-Chomskyist, who believes that language is not an instinct, Shariatmadari argues that language is "the fruit of both the biological evolution of social thinking and the long cultural evolution of human societies." He provides countless examples of how certain thinking about language has been skewed: by calling African American Vernacular English simply "bad" or "incorrect" English, instead of viewing it as a separate dialect; by mindlessly sharing a meme that says that Albanians have 27 words for eyebrows, without stopping to think about the racial and linguistic implications of that statement; by idealizing a language one might identify with culturally, such as Sanskrit or Korean, at the expense of other languages.

Proving that no language is better than any other language, that animals have more language skills than previously thought and that every generation since the 14th century has bemoaned the "corruption" of English by the next generation, Shariatmadari provides lighthearted examples from a variety of languages and cultures that any armchair linguist will enjoy. Approachable, yet interesting and thought-provoking, Don't Believe a Word is sure to appeal to language lovers and grammar nerds alike. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.