Sunday, October 13, 2013

English Language Day

Today is English Language Day, a day about learning and celebrating the English Language. This year's theme is "English, the Global Language" and examines how English is used internationally. Did you know that for every native-English speaker, there are 3 non-native speakers?

FUN STORY: I spent a semester studying in China. Some classmates and I were working on our homework, which was a dialogue. We had it almost all read and translated, except the last lines. Instead of saying zai jian (see you again) they said "white white." What on Earth was going on here? After wrestling with it for longer than any of us will admit today, a classmate shouted in frustration "What the [bleep] would you end a conversation says bai bai?!" Of course, once she said it out loud, in Chinese, we all knew what was going on.

To celebrate English, here are some great books that look at language, play with language, or just use it absolutely beautifully.


Feed by MT Anderson. Taking place in the future, where everyone has a feed of content and ads pumped directly into their brains is filled with invented slang to go along with the new world.

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison. It's contemporary fiction, but still needs a glossary--and not just a British-to-American one--even the British versions have glossaries for all of Georgia's made-up words. Once you've read it, you'll always be talking about the cosmic horn, the cakeshop of love, red bottomosity, lippy, being nippy noodles, and Hamburger-a-go-go land.

Diva without a Cause by Grace Dent. This one doesn't really play with English, but Dent perfectly captures the voice of a Chav-- a subset of English society that most American's aren't aware of. However, as it's written for a British audience, the new slang and vocab make this one slower-going. Stick with it-- it's hilarious.


Chime by Franny Billingsley. I'd including this one because the language is so wonderful. It's just some damn beautiful writing.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. I'm adding this because of the way Frankie plays with prefixes and suffixes to invent new words.

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey. No one really diagrams sentences anymore, but it used to be a standard way to teach grammar. In this history, Florey not only looks at the history of diagramming sentences, but the history of grammar and English education and why it may or may not be a subject worth learning.


The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal. Crystal looks at 100 words and what large movements they symbolize in the development of English. It's easy to digest and fun to skip around in.

The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson. Bryson has a knack for pointing out the hilarious and absurd, and when he looks at our language, we see how absurd it really is.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. The Oxford English dictionary, in print, is 20 volumes long. In addition to being the most complete, it also gives a history of the words included. It's also the product of a project that quickly grew way out of control and is, in many ways, on of our first wikis.

What books would you add?

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