“Those reviewers on Amazon are ____________ [fill in the blank]”

babelsterren
Blogger and teacher Larry Davidson from Weston, MA had a close look at the reviews of Babel at amazon.com. And like myself, he didn’t like what he saw. And he went on to do what I could never do: review the reviewers, and without mincing his words either.

I’ll reproduce his first few paragraphs here before sending you off to the man himself – who I’ve never met or spoken to in my life, I should add. But is he a friend? You bet.

So here’s Larry Davidson’s blogpost:

As Tom Lehrer famously said, “the reason most reviews on Amazon are so atrocious is that they were written by the people.”

Actually, that’s not quite what he said. He actually said “the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people.” But it’s exactly the same idea; there’s no editorial eye on members of the general public who write reviews on Amazon, Google, and Yelp. So it’s not just Amazon, but I’ll use that as my example.

Yesterday I reviewed Babel by Gaston Dorren. My review was positive — enthusiastic, in fact. Now of course opinions differ, and de gustibus non est disputandum, so it doesn’t bother me if you dislike a book I like, or if you like a book I dislike. You can even think Dan Brown is a good writer for all I care. But some things about non-professional reviews do bother me. Let’s use the Amazon reviews of Babel as an instructive example. Half of the reviewers gave 4 or 5 stars, so obviously those people are discerning and thoughtful.😉 What we want to do is look at the reviewers who gave 1–3 stars. Maybe they were discerning and thoughtful too, and all we have is a difference of opinion.

In some cases that was indeed what was going on. Continue reading .

A professor at boiling point

Sri_Lanka_-_Sri_Lankan_Tamils_2012My invitation to the readers of Babel and Lingua to let me know what they think has produced a steady stream of emails, most of them interesting and many heart-warming. Occasionally, however, the effect is chilling, and here’s an example.

The Babel chapter about Tamil is mostly about India, but it also touches on Sri Lanka, which has a sizeable Tamil-speaking minority. Since independence in 1948, relations between the two major ethnic and linguistic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, have been tense at best and frequently violent. While tension and violence can never be exclusively blamed on one side, Sinhalese nationalism and suppression of Tamil rights did much to ignite the powder keg into civil war – a powder keg created by the British colonial administration, I should add. Continue reading

Living Yiddish: an insider’s observations

I recently had a fascinating correspondence with a reader who grew up in a Yiddish-speaking environment. She has allowed me to publish her emails, but prefers to remain anonymous. As per her request, I have given the text a – very light – edit.

DerYidMuch as I enjoyed your book Lingo, I was surprised to read your description of Yiddish today. In your book you describe Yiddish speakers as mostly older survivors while the next generation speak it at best as a second language. It is not surprising therefore that you are pessimistic as to its future.

But this situation could not be further from the truth. Yiddish in places like Brooklyn, London, Montreal, Antwerp and Israel is not just spoken, but it is often as a primary mother tongue. In villages like Kiryat Joel and New Square in upstate New York Yiddish is the official language of everything from commerce, education, press etc. Continue reading

Linguistics in Dutch society

MarcvOLinguist Marc van Oostendorp is a professor of Dutch language and academic communication at Nijmegen, as well as a prolific writer pouring out high-quality popular books, columns, daily blog posts, frequent videos and more. He has just published a brief paper about linguistic outreach and popularisation in the Netherlands. With his permission, I am reproducing here substantial chunks of it for those of you who are interested in comparing the Dutch situation with that in your own country. Word of warning: unlike Marc’s popular writing, which is playful and lively, this academic piece is factual and dry, so don’t expect a juicy blog post. If you can’t get enough of it nonetheless, the full three-page text is available for download. Continue reading

A gap year on Basque, thanks to Lingo

Guest blog by Lily Finnie (South West London, UK)

photo-of-meIn my last year of school, I was planning on doing an Extended Project Qualification, which is basically an extra qualification answering a question on any topic of your choice. At first I had no idea what I wanted to do it on. My initial idea was an investigation into sound symbolism, but after admitting defeat due to a severe lack of supportive information, I was back to square one.

 As it happened, I had just finished reading the book Lingo, which has a chapter on Basque. It made a question pop into my head: ‘Why is this language so weird?’ Having never heard of ergativity before and experiencing a rapidly increasing, reasonably obsessive interest in different language grammars, I decided to use my project as a way of delving into the world of Basque. And it was with that vague idea as my inspiration that I decided to undertake the project of answering the question, ‘How and why is Basque a linguistic isolate?’ Continue reading

How to be an Anglosplaining jerk

Alison Edwards, the linguist who translated my book Lingo into English, is a columnist and blogger that I much enjoy reading. Here’s her latest blogpost. As it was first published in a Dutch university magazine, she didn’t translate the book title at the end, so I will do it for you: The Discovery of Heaven. Or am I blundering into ‘Dutchsplanation’ here…?  

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard the term mansplaining being bandied around; a portmanteau of the words man and explaining. It was inspired by a landmark essay by the Ameri…

Read the full post at How to be an Anglosplaining jerk