REVIEW - LANGUAGE & HUMAN NATURE

Halpern, Mark, Language and Human Nature. Regent Press. 373 pages, plus index. Soft bound. $29.95.

For a self-proclaimed non-linguist, the author spends a lot of time with that crowd. However, he spends more time in his role as a magic knight, dashing about the kingdom of Thesis on his white horse, saving those who love language from those barbarians who claim that since language evolves, there are now no rules. The first, linguists call prescriptivists, the second descriptivists. Although Halpern tends to the prescriptivist side, he also occasionally attacks them with his mighty sword.

For real evil-doers, since he is magic, he turns into a dragon that thoroughly enjoys burning them to a crisp. These are named by name and their misdoings lovingly detailed as he herds them into his cave and starts the fire-breathing. Quite entertaining seeing toasting from the dragonís viewpoint. Some of the topics covered are those who believe childrenís creativity is stifled if they have to learn grammar; (The Fallacy of Pedantic Persecution), those who defend the misuse of words (heís especially fond of infer and imply, uninterested and disinterested), and Free Speech, the right of Americans to not "be told what to do by pedants, highbrows, bookwroms, and snobbish intellectuals -- and indeed they are not; which means they get told what to do by television gag men, advertising copywriters, political flacks, and aluminum-siding salesmen."

Thatís only a sample. Plagiarism, the futility of linguists as scientists, and a refutation of the Eskimo terms for ice and snow are given a lively treatment. The Eskimo chapter came about from a book published several years ago that claimed the belief that Eskimos have more terms for such than non-Eskimos was a hoax. Halpern immediately mounted his steed and began searching for the truth. He came up with 123 terms which he lists, slightly singed. (He also takes on politically correct terms such as Eskimo and he/she, but more gently.)

As to why Nazism is correctly despised but Communism given a more-in-sorrow pass by progressives, this reviewer will risk a fiery death by stating Nazis wanted to conquer the world and Communism was founded on an ideal. It was unworkable, but it was also hijacked early on by tyrants.

Overall, if you enjoy spirited debates over language, and donít fear either knights or dragons, this is a book to enjoy.

D. L.

   

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