Every year sees the publication of dozens of new books about the charming, quirky little nuances of the English language, and they’re all crap. They’re. All. Crap. Crap, I tell you! Because while they purport to offer a thoughtful, revealing study of the subtleties of our language, they actually reveal nothing beyond the writer’s own social prejudices and pet peeves. “Down with the Oxford comma!” “Up with the non-gender-specific pronoun!” Give me a fucking break. This is how certain bored old white people try to re-assert their precarious hold on a certain echelon of society. It’s like quibbling over neckties at a country club.
And then, on the other hand—finally, for fuck’s sake—we have The Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson. Peterson is a linguist (linguistics is that other way of thinking about language, the one that’s actually scientific and informative) and he’s a conlanger, which means he creates constructed languages (“conlangs”) for fun. For fun! For fun he sits around and puzzles out new ways of communicating, using the tools that are common to all languages. I’m not talking about Oxford commas. I’m talking about ergativity, semantic bleaching, phonological erosion, the pragmatics of intonation, and the reification of gender. You know, the real stuff.