I was just wondering what to post when this link showed up in my inbox (thanks, Maureen!): Harry Ritchie of The Guardian saying “It’s time to challenge the notion that there is only one way to speak English”:
Did you see that great documentary on linguistics the other night? What about that terrific series on Radio 4 about the Indo-European language family tree? Or that news report on language extinction? It is strange that none of those programmes happened, or has ever happened: it’s not as if language is an arcane subject. …
There is, of course, Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct – a bestseller that seems to have ticked the box for publishers and public alike as the book on linguistics. But The Language Instinct has a very specific agenda – to support Noam Chomsky’s theories about our language skills being innate; other areas of linguistics are glimpsed, if at all, fuzzily in the background.
I’m not blaming Pinker. He ultimately failed to justify his title, but he did reach a keen, large audience with a well-written book fizzing with ideas and examples. I’m blaming someone else, the person who, inexplicably, doesn’t exist – who should have written the book revealing how Pinker was so wrong and had a ding-dong with him on Newsnight; the ambitious, good-looking academic, who possibly had a spell in an indie band, with his or her own 13-part series about language on BBC2.
Of course, he’s plugging his own book, but it’s music to my ears, and when he goes on to blame my own favorite whipping boy, Chomsky… well, my heart swelled two sizes. There’s nothing new in the piece (and he gets a little carried away at times, talking about “the Proto-Indo-Europeans, that mysterious tribe whose homeland was recently located north of the Caspian Sea in about 3,300 BC”), but it’s an enjoyable read, and it’s my end-of-year present to the Varied Reader. A happy 2014 to you all!