ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



February 2023



Why Is This A Question by Paul Anthony Jones

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in learning more about language (mostly English, but other languages as well).

In a nutshell:
Author Jones looks to answer 20 different questions about language.

Worth quoting:
“No matter what we say or how we say it, communication is fundamentally a demand for a person’s time, attention, effort, interest, knowledge and cooperation.”

Why I chose it:
I enjoy books like this.

What it left me feeling:

Jones pulls off something that I think is a bit tricky: he’s written a fun book about language that is easy to read but also include a lot of interesting trivia and in depth history. In the hands of a different writer this might have been a challenge to read – it could have been too dense, or pulled out information that just wasn’t as interesting. But Jones has found a way to pick the right examples to explain things, and also to pick questions that I did indeed want to know the answers to.

The answers to each of the questions is a chapter long, with some just eight or nine pages, while others are over 20. The first four are the longest, as they tackle what is a word, what is a language, where do languages come from, and where do words come from. After that, it’s a bit more trivia focused, with questions like why does the ‘i’ have a dot, and why is the alphabet in ABC order, though by the end it returns to more philosophical and scientific questions, like how do we read and how do we speak.

I found myself occasionally interrupting my partner to share things I’d learned in the book. Like, for example, there’s a language in Australia (Guugu Yimithirr) that doesn’t use words for right and left; everything is direction based. So a speaker of that language would say ‘hand me the book that’s west of the lamp,’ instead of saying ‘hand me the book that’s to the right of the lamp.’ This then wires their brain to know where they are relative to north and south for the rest of their lives. Fascinating.

I think my favorite question from a trivia perspective was what is the hardest language to learn, because it looked at so many different ways different languages do their things. But all the chapters offered things I had never learned before. I think this might be a cool book to get someone who is thinking about studying language, as a sort of starter kit.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:

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