Social Art

Social Art : Language and Its Uses

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From a baby's first words to the great works of literature, language plays an integral part in our lives. Yet most of us know very little about the nature of language - what it is, how we learn it, how it works. Indeed, though linguists, philosophers, psychologists, and other thinkers have made great strides in the understanding of language, little of their insight has trickled down to the general public. To remedy this, Ronald Macaulay provides in The Social Art an informative, intriguing tour of what we know about language today, in thirty brief, highly readable chapters replete with jokes, anecdotes, and vivid examples. Macaulay offers a sweeping look at language in all its aspects. Ranging far and wide, he delves into such topics as child language acquisition, syntax, semantics, writing, style, conversation, swearing, rhetoric, narrative, literature, and the history of English. Each chapter provides an authoritative overview of a particular topic - from Pidgins and Creoles to the Magic of Words - spiced with intriguing asides. In his discussion of conversation, for instance, Macaulay points out that while many cultures abhor silence in the company of others, among the Western Apache it is normal to greet strangers with silence (talking begins only when the participants feel at ease with each other). Likewise, in the chapter on the history of English, we learn that many English terms relating to finance - including "capital, " "fee, " "chattel, " and "pecuniary" - all come from words relating to domestic herds, dating back to societies where one's wealth was measured in the number of cows one owned. The book also includes many fascinating nuggets about languages world-wide. We read of click languages such as Hottentot, Zulu, and Xhosa, where some consonant sounds are produced by sucking in air to produce clicking sounds (because of the difficulty in producing sequences of these sounds, Zulu-speaking children practice saying tongue-twisters with numerous clicks)show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 249 pages
  • 157.48 x 236.22 x 27.94mm | 544.31g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195083822
  • 9780195083828

Review quote

"As I read this book, I kept saying to myself, 'Exactly.' Macaulay knows how to hit the nail on the head. It was a pleasure to read this book."--Marianne Uribe, Polomar College"Well written. Excellent short chapters, with continuity between chapters that's very unusual. Best I've found at locating formal elements in social contexts."--Francis Hubbard, Marquette Universityshow more

About Ronald K.S. Macaulay

About the Author: Ronald K.S. Macaulay is Professor of Linguistics at Pitzer College. He is the author of Generally Speaking: How Children Learn Language and Locating Dialect in Discourse: The Language of Honest Men and Bonnie Lasses in more

Review Text

A modest survey of recent linguistic theory and practice in which Macaulay (Linguistics/Pitzer College; Generally Speaking, 1980 - not reviewed) draws on 25 years of teaching to present what he admits is derivative, technical, and pedagogically oriented. Unlike the luminous and artful version of contemporary linguistics by Anthony Burgess (A Mouthful of Air, 1993), or the vivid and original contributions by Ray Jackendoff, Steven Pinker, and Joel Davis, this study is tidy, conservative, distinguished by the 30 short and methodical chapters, the teacher's voice, and the wide array of examples. Mostly, Macaulay describes familiar facets of language by using linguistics terminology: language acquisition, phonemics, vocabulary, syntax, semantics, and "deictic" elements - the implied gestures of spoken language. He divides dialects into region, social class, written and spoken language; and he "registers" the technical vocabularies of different fields, stylistic devices, and also sexual differences, which he believes are unimportant despite the "nonsense" the topic has produced. The power of language; "magic" words; rhetoric as both an abuse that obscures meaning (or lack of it) and as a power of persuasion; conversation; narratives; foreign languages; the history of English; of Indo-European; and the literary uses of language - all these expand the topics beyond the typical linguistic preoccupation of describing how language is used. Except for Macaulay's disarming "Envoi," revealing his personal experience with linguistics and with gathering authentic examples, especially from his native Scottish dialect, the scope and approach are familiar, indeed self-evident. Competent, noncontroversial, and instructive: it's difficult to determine why a reader would prefer this volume to all the brilliant competition. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

25 ratings
3.36 out of 5 stars
5 8% (2)
4 40% (10)
3 36% (9)
2 12% (3)
1 4% (1)
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