Tuesday, January 09, 2007

book review: "Spoken Here" offers a different perspective on bilingualism

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages by Mark Abley (Mariner Books, 2003) isn't about people raising children bilingually so that they can attend elite universities or communicate with family members in another country; rather, it's about people desperate to keep their disappearing native language alive but who must also become fluent in the majority language around them. It's a compelling, disturbing, readable book suitable for a general audience, not just linguists, and especially of interest to those who travel, who speak less-common languages, who want to understand different cultures better.

In Spoken Here, Abley chronicles his visits to communities all over the world--literally--whose languages are endangered. He spends enough time with each group to develop an understanding and appreciation of the culture that the language reflects, learning about the people's history, geography, politics, conflicts, dilemmas, education, and everyday life. He listens to elders, learns some of each language, attends school, and more. His passion is evident and his descriptions fascinating, making this a really good read for all of us interested in languages, how they evolve, how they coexist, and why and what happens when they don't.


  1. Thanks for the review Sarah ... sounds like an interesting book... I've just requested it to the library.

  2. I love that book! So much food for thought about the impact on cultural identity when a language is lost, and how much work it can take to keep a language alive in an environment where it is little-used.

  3. So sad, isn't it, to hear about languages and cultures disappearing? Thank you for commenting!