Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little

Format: E-Book (review copy)

Length: 320 pages

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Source: NetGalley

Publication Date: March 1, 2012

I requested this book from NetGalley quite a while ago, and it’s one of those books that took me a long time to finish because I read it in small chunks.  I tend to do this with non-fiction, as it gives me a chance to really digest the topic. Trip of the Tongue is part travelogue, part sociolinguistic analysis, part social commentary.  It’s a good book, but it also gave me a lot to think about, thus the extended reading time.

The writer, Elizabeth Little, undertakes a journey to study America’s minority languages, those that have been or are still commonly spoken today in various niche cultures around the U.S.  The book is broken into chapters by language, and Little writes about her travels as well as the languages that she experiences in each place she visits.  There are chapters about Native American languages, Creole languages, and languages which various immigrant groups brought over with them.  What she learns about them in terms of their history and culture is invariably interesting, and it’s obvious that Little is a “language nerd”–she loves talking about the linguistic particularities of each.

I thought the social implications of her book were the most interesting of all–how each of these language communities adapted (or didn’t) to being part of a larger American culture, and how they were treated by the government and other Americans.  Little makes some really good arguments for the importance of multilingual and multiculturalism, and by the end of the book she has come to some understandings which she didn’t have at the beginning.  To me, that was the most powerful part of her story, that she changed as a result of her experiences.

If this sounds a bit heavy, it’s not.  Little has a fun writing style, and the topics she writes about are handled with a light touch for the most part, although less so towards to the end of the book and she drives her points home.  I really enjoyed the book, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in languages, American culture, and multiculturalism.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for providing me with a review copy of this book.

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4 thoughts on “Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little

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