2021 Outstanding Academic Titles: Words and Language

Five selections from the Choice Reviews 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles pertaining to Words and Language.

Five selections from the Choice Reviews 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles pertaining to Words and Language.

Words Matter book cover, 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles
1. Words matter: meaning and power
McConnell-Ginet, Sally. Cambridge, 2020

This brief, well-written book on current language debates and issues shows that, as the title proclaims, words do in fact matter—a great deal!—And that the words one uses change their meaning over time, reflecting the power relations of their users in a variety of social and historical contexts. McConnell-Ginet (Cornell Univ.) writes in a learned yet accessible way, which makes her book eminently teachable and also useful for the general reader. Often using herself, her friends, and her colleagues as examples of how people change and shift their use of language over time, the author shows rather than tells the reader that language and its arbiters are not static. Some of the many parenthetical asides can be a bit tiresome, but they serve as reminders of the necessary qualifiers for the rules and regulations that users of certain linguistic contexts present. Early chapters present necessary concepts and background for later chapters, in which the author applies and exemplifies those concepts in real-life usage. Writing from her own experience, McConnell-Ginet shares valuable insights from scholars and experts, ceding authority to others who can add their expertise to her work. View on Amazon.

2. Language or dialect?: the history of a conceptual pair
Van Rooy, Raf. Oxford, 2021
Language or Dialect book cover, 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles

One of the greatest unsolved—and probably insoluble—conundrums in linguistics is how to define whether two language forms represent dialects of the same language or separate languages. Most linguists are likely familiar with the famous adage “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” but few are versed in the fascinating history of the term dialect itself, nor with the centuries-old evolution of the dichotomy between dialect and language. Van Rooy’s masterful and eminently readable study explores this topic across more than two millennia. Filled with a breadth of historiographic detail, the book’s 24 well-sequenced chapters consider the conceptual pair language and dialect against the backdrop of successive stages of Western intellectual development. Born in classical Greece, the term dialect ultimately became paired with the notion of language during the early modern age, when the true extent of the world’s linguistic diversity began to be known. Linguistic historians will particularly appreciate the chapters that cover the past two centuries. View on Amazon.

3. Émigrés: French words that turned English
Scholar, Richard. Princeton, 2020
Emigres book cover, 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles

Since the 1960s, the cultural turn has transformed the academic study of politics and economics. Perhaps because it often focuses on the poor and the powerless, the cultural turn hIn this book, Scholar (French, Durham Univ., UK) blends literary, philosophical, artistic, and linguistic analysis to illustrate the ways in which a select group of French words have become part of English. Scholar goes beyond the familiar observations that English has borrowed much from French since 1066. Beginning with John Dryden’s use of French in Marriage à-la Mode, Scholar shows how some French words bring new meaning to such familiar concepts as innocence, boredom, and whim. His thesis, developed in the first half of the book, is that such émigré words are creolized keywords. Creolization indicates a hierarchical “transcultural mixing” (p. 73) and keywords, à laRaymond Williams, are words denoting central aspects of culture. The second half of the book segues to rich exemplification of just three words: näiveté, ennui, and caprice. In looking at these, Scholar draws in work by John Dryden, John Evelyn, Michel de Montaigne, Blaise Pascal, Madeleine de Scudéry, Maria Edgeworth, Walter Sickert, and Richard Strauss and contemporary writers such as John le Carré, Arundhati Roy, and George Bowering. What is notable about Scholar’s book, and his exposition, is its simultaneous erudition and playfulness. View on Amazon.

4. Irony and sarcasm
Kreuz, Roger J. MIT, 2020
Irony and Sarcasm book cover, 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles

In this brief book, part of the “MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series,” Kreuz (psychology, Univ. of Memphis) teases apart the meanings and uses of irony and sarcasm, along with related concepts such as satire, parody, and pretense. The book opens with a rundown of various types of irony, from Socratic to postmodern. Kreuz quickly introduces the sometimes-fuzzy distinction between verbal irony and sarcasm (the latter often requiring a target). As their etymologies suggest, both concepts go back to the Greeks, and as he brings them forward in history Kreuz incorporates voices as diverse as Sophocles, Cicero, O. Henry, Henry Watson Fowler, David Foster Wallace, George Carlin, and Alanis Morissette. Kreuz builds out the basics of metaphor and speech act theory with current research on the identification of sarcasm, the sarcastic tone of voice, sentiment analysis, and memes. Kreuz’s engaging style makes the exposition easy to follow despite the slipperiness of the titular concepts, and in the endmatter he includes a useful glossary and suggestions for further reading. View on Amazon.

5. Poetry in a global age
Ramazani, Jahan. Chicago, 2020
Poetry in a Global Age book cover, 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles

Migration is the central fact for all life forms on this planet, and this is especially true of poetry. This is what Ramazani (English, Univ. of Virginia) articulates in his amazing study, which is an extension of his A Transnational Poetics (CH, Sep’09, 47-0111) and traverses a range of the critical theories that bring poetry into focus. More important, for this study, the concepts through which poetics are addressed shift and migrate as well. Ramazani deploys concepts such as “cultural geography,” “tourism,” “postcolonial and modernist studies,” “world literature,” “orientalist critique,” “ecocriticism,” “cultural anthropology,” “linguistics,” “translation studies,” and “lyric studies,” and finds them as both limits and opportunities to further the discussion of poetry and poetics. The author looks mainly at 20th-century poetry, but his focus is conceptual rather than chronological and historical, or national and regional. He includes a vast array of poets, such as Yeats, Stevens, and Eliot but also Agha Shahid, Lorna Goodison, and Dalji Nagra. His scope is planetary, migrating through localities, nationalities, and regions, as well as their implicit temporalities. On Amazon.

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