Beginning of summer reading

This category will probably leave me the most open to criticism of any category. The list of what I am reading and trying to get to will look absurd. However, keep in mind that while I may not do a twentieth of what I propose, I do get a lot done.

First of all, all my language study will go under the category Personal Language Study.

I am finishing up Ira Berlin’s new The Making of African America. Not as exciting as Many Thousands Gone but revealing of the many facets of Black life. More Africans have come to the U.S. in the last 20 years than came during the whole period of slavery.

Why Students Don’t Like School – just started it, not impressed so far.

Marzano’s book on testing – started it last summer; seems pretty good.

Laura Restrepo’s Delirio – for my book club. I didn’t finish it but want to keep on till I do.

The Bell Curve – I’ve been trying to read it for almost 10 years. It’s not poorly written but the author(s) is trying to show that low IQ accounts for pathology that is clearly social and cultural and economic in origin. It’s all based on testing – like NCLB.

Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand’s foundational book for the Libertarians. Very jejune, hard to keep going.

Understanding Marijuana by Earlywine (great name for the author of such a book) – interesting so far. With the possible legalization looming (a good idea IMHO), I want to know as much as possible about a drug that was out of the picture when I was a kid. If we allow tobacco and alcohol, why not marijuana?

Bait & Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich – sad but funny romp through the job search jungle. It makes me squirm in spots b/c some of the counseling gurus spout stuff that’s familiar from my counseling days. Did I sound like that?

Second Language Teaching & Learning by David Nunan. A professional book I find very interesting.

I’ll probably add more as I find them but it surprises me b/c I am reading so many books at once and this list is short. It means every other book is a book on a specific language – either in it or about it.

Books to get to:
long, long list: Patrick O’Brian’s Cpt. Aubrey series

several books on Black culture: Levine’s Black Culture, Black Consciousness

several on Black music, including Arom’s massive tome on the music of Chad and Niger, African Polyphony and Polyrhythm.

They Knew They Were Right by Heilbrunn on the Neocons. I’ve already read it but I want my own copy so I can go back over it and relate incidents to what I remember.

I think I’ll get to some of these this summer. If not, there’s always the afternoons at home.

June 13 (my 46th wedding anniversary) – I just bought Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by one of my favoirte authors, John McWhorter.

June 20 – about half-way through Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue. It’s clear McWhorter is applying the same techniques to English that he has to the Spanish Creoles and a number of languages incl. English in Language Interrupted, i.e. he’s looking at the socio-historical situation and asking, “Is there evidence in the language that reflects the social situation? If so, let’s take it into account even if it flies in the face of conventional interpretations.”

The result is a fascinating look at early English, in the period when the Germanic peoples invaded with the language that would become English. The Celts were there already, of course, and, according to the usual account, were pushed back and counted for nothing in the development of English. Think The Story of English, The Mother Tongue episode.

Just as he did with the Spanish creoles, he looks at what happened, most probably, in those first centuries. Did the Celts go away? Were they killed off? No. They stayed around and were dominated by Germanic speakers, Anglo-Saxons. So they learned Old English. But there were so many of them and only about 250,000 Germanic types, that they learned English only as best they could. They therefore gave a heavy Celtic inflection to English in its developmental phase, incl. do-support and the present progressive tense.

McWhorter did this with Spanish creoles, his original field of expertise, by showing that Spanish creoles are almost non-existent b/c Spanish laborers were brought over to Cuba and the Africans worked side-by-side with them, thus learning Spanish directly from native speakers. When larger numbers of slaves began coming over, they had Spanish-speaking fellow slaves to learn from and thus had no need for a pidgin which would develop into a creole.

So here, the opposite occurred: the Celts had to learn English but were not in direct daily contact with native English speakers. We see that even here in the Southwest U.S. where people growing up in heavily Hispanic areas where lots of Spanish is spoken do speak English but which overlays of Spanish word choice (“barely”), syntax (“I saw yesterday my daughter”), some grammar (can’t think of any examples), and, of course, pronunciation and intonation.

McWhorter’s trump card is that do-support occurs in no other language in the world and the present progressive nowhere in other Germanic languages, but both occurred in Celtic at the time of the Germanic invasion.

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