Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little

/ posted in: Reading

The author is a language fanatic.  She likes to learn all types of languages.  She decided to travel around the United States to find areas where languages other than English are used commonly.

She started with a few of the Native American languages – Creek and Najavo – to illustrate why these languages are fading even when efforts are now being made to teach them.  For years the U.S. government’s official policy was to eradicate the language of the tribes.  For generations who were punished for speaking their languages, it is not desirable for them to teach their children a language that they were taught is “bad.”  Why would they want their children to be punished?  English proficiency is also required to make it in the larger society so that trumps native language learning.

The trip continues with looks at creoles in Louisiana and Miami, Gullah in South Carolina, Basque in Nevada, and Norwegian in the upper Midwest.  It ends with a look at the use of Spanish in the United States.

I’ve never understood why people who can speak another language don’t make it a priority to teach it to their children.  Even if they aren’t going to speak it full time any multilingualism is of benefit for their brains and their college applications.

When we were in France this fall we had a conversation with a waiter who was from Corsica.  He spoke French.  His wife is German.  Their only common language when they met was English.  Their children are being raised with all three languages.  He couldn’t understand why this isn’t standard in the U.S.  I don’t get it either.

My grandmother understood Polish but refused to speak it.  One of her sons-in-law tried to speak Polish with her and she wouldn’t.  She obviously understood him but refused to utter a word.  The husband was raised in a house with Italian speaking relatives.  He considers Italian his first language but doesn’t remember any of it because once his great-grandmothers died no one spoke the language anymore.

I listened to this on audio.  There are sometimes when comparing differences in languages where it sounded like there were charts in the book.  Listening to charts being read on audio is not fun.  Also, the narrator sounds like a very proper slightly older woman.  There is profanity in the book.  It sounded quite odd being read in such a cultured, calm, and soothing voice.