BOOK REVIEW: “Talk on the Wild Side” by Lane Greene shows how language is power

Lane Greene’s Talk on the Wild Side: Why Language Can’t Be Tamed┬ácame across, in its initial reading, as a scattershot collection of topics relating vaguely to the way the pronunciations, words, and grammars of languages will change with time so long as those languages continue to live and have people speak them. What makes the book really special, though, is the deeper theme: despite some people’s best efforts to pretend otherwise, decentralized changes are not just acceptable but inherent to language.

A Southern-born American journalist now living in London, the polyglottic Greene likewise moves through his topics with a comfortable, intelligible style, connecting otherwise disparate elements with threads that follow easily and ultimately tie together in a way that is truly something special.

What I’m not fully convinced of is whether this was intentional or something emergent from the subject itself.

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‘What do you think of gentrification?’

Gentrification is a problem because it flows from historical discrimination, and the power dynamics tend to fall along those lines.

If everyone had equal wealth, or if wealth really were distributed according to merit, gentrification might just be some unpleasant but necessary feature of changing economies, labor markets, and urban life.

But instead what we have in the United States is a society where some groups have been robbed of wealth generation after generation, and others have been gifted that wealth and allowed to inherit it instead. So even if most de jure racism either is no longer on the books or can’t be openly enforced, we still have the equivalent of grandfather clauses operating all over the place.

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