You are what you speak

Apropos of my previous post about corrupting language to fake a sense of community: A colleague of mine at The Economist, Lane Greene, is about to publish a book (on March 8th), which goes much deeper into this subject.

Lane emailed me that You are What you Speak is

a lot about the role language (the creation of modern standard languages) plays in imagining communities…

More formally, his book flap says:

Beginning with literal myths, from the Tower of Babel to the bloody origins of the word “shibboleth,” Greene shows how language “experts” went from myth-making to rule-making and from building cohesive communities to building modern nations. From the notion of one language’s superiority to the common perception that phrases like “It’s me” are “bad English,” linguistic beliefs too often define “us” and distance “them,” supporting class, ethnic, or national prejudices. In short: What we hear about language is often really about the politics of identity…

The flap goes on. Lane then emailed me:

… boiled down, how’s this? “We believe a lot of myths about language, and we’ll learn to love our languages even better when we learn where those myths come from, and get past them…”

I think that sounds pretty damn fascinating, so I’ve pre-ordered the book.

And of course I’m smirking because all this “versioning anxiety” between flap texts and nut grafs (I had asked him for one) and elevator pitches will soon overwhelm and torment me, as I prepare to publish my own book in the fall.