Although there were many non-violent protestors against racism in the past who are famous in their own right for their philosophies and ideologies such as Malcolm X as a prime example, but having read the autobiography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I can see that there is an alternative to violence, a much more peaceful alternative that leads to a better resolution.
Dr. King’s speeches and letters, which were printed throughout the book were incredible. Unfortunately, the only one I had heard before was the “I have a dream speech”, because let’s face it, who hasn’t? But it has to be said that his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was one of the most inspirational documents I have ever read. His use of metaphorical and other figurative language to get points across is simply magical and yet he does it with such ease. The way in which he speaks of non-violent protests not being creators of tension nut in fact, the surfacers of hidden tension, describing this tension as “like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all of its ugliness to the natural medicines of light and air.” This struck me profoundly.
However, it’s not just quotations from famous letters and speeches that are so mesmerising, even just his general writing produces the most thoughtful and inspirational quotes that are possibly readable. Quotes such as “a man who is not willing to die for anything is not fit to live”, it is so thought-provoking, you instantly think- what would I die for? This isn’t so much reading, as an actual conversation with yourself about your own moral proclivities.
Probably the main thing I liked and appreciated about Dr. Kings character, aside from his humility and willingness to fight for freedom for all, is his desire to learn from those with even the most radically different ideas to himself. For me, this is what sets him apart from all other major philosophical faces of our generation; he is the antithesis of narrow-minded and in fact incorporates the ideas of others in some of his more radical ideologies.
Although of course I may be wrong, I personally get the feeling that Martin Luther King knew that he would eventually be assassinated, but he was willing to work despite this fact. In conclusion, this was possibly the best book I have ever read and not only would I strongly recommend it, I believe it should be required reading for all.
‘A few kind words and a loaded gun’ is an autobiography by Noel ‘Razor’ Smith, a convicted armed robber from South London. Smith tells the tale of how he grew up in a dysfunctional family and how his behaviour deteriorated to the point where he carried out acts of armed robbery, initially for the thrill but eventually for a living.
The issue of Nature vs. Nurture is discussed and he provides his opinion and reasoning for believing that it is a person’s upbringing (nurture) that affects how they behave rather than their genetics (nature).
The story of Smith’s life is told in grave, brutal detail which is very effective in getting across to the reader the cold truth of life as a criminal and life in prison. After 58 criminal convictions Noel was often considered to be one of the toughest convicts that there are however, he explains how despite the horrific conditions of prison, he did in fact manage to teach himself to read and write, and also how he gained an Honours Diploma from the London School of Journalism and an A Level in Law. Furthermore, Smith speaks of his time in rehabilitation and how he now works as a motivational speaker at Crimiknowledge conferences all across the country.
The autobiography as a whole is gripping from the very beginning and eye-opening in respect of the UK penal system. The novel is excellently written in a way that draws the reader in and attaches them emotionally to the tale. Personally, I find the honest accounts very admirable and particularly enjoyed the last chapter, the heart-breaking account of Smith’s son’s death and all of Smith’s regrets.
The book covers aspects of Smith’s life for example how he lived in South London and then tuned out to be a career criminal, Smith tells the tale of how he was in trouble with the police often and even had appearances in juvenile court for theft. By the age of 16 Smith had been in trouble with the law many times and was convicted of a crime which gave him 14 years imprisonment, Smith explains his childhood acts as ”for the thrill” which eventually became his living.
Smith doesn’t sugarcoat his life and the book is very cold and brutal in the way it comes across, it is very blunt and Smith doesn’t attempt to make prison sound any better than it was. Smith speaks of his life in prison in the story and even goes into detail about the 58 criminal convictions he had made. Noel was considered to be a tough criminal but despite all of this, despite the cold prison and the lengthy sentence, Smith actually managed to make the most of himself whilst there. He taught himself how to read and right and then went on to receive an Honours Diploma from the London School of Journalism.
In the book Smith also speaks about how he ended up getting his life together through rehab and he is now a motivational speaker at many conferences, to me this is interesting as it shows from a first persons perspective how he managed to turn his life around and change who he was.
For me, the autobiography is a very interesting book throughout and very hard to put down. It made me realise many things about prison and convictions which I hadn’t really had insight on before, the fact that Smith himself wrote the book made me become very emotionally involved and so the last chapter even brought a tear to my eye. Smith runs through his regrets and even goes into his sons tragic death which was very upsetting but also enjoyable to see how different Smith had become.
The Periodic Table is not a novel, nor an autobiography, but a collection of short stories – some of them true, others fictional. Primo Levi already wrote a book about his experiences in the Holocaust, called If This is A Man, and as a result The Periodic Table hardly touches on the Holocaust at all. Instead, the book is mainly focused on fragments of Levi’s life before and after World War 2 with a few short stories that he wrote in his youth mixed in.
Unsurprisingly, the quality of the stories is a mixed bag. It’s not so much a problem with the writing than with the actual content of the stories – the ones focusing on snapshots of Levi’s career as a chemist, such as Sulfur and Uranium were at times quite inaccessible thanks to the constant references to chemistry. It was the stories that focused on the more impactful moments of Levi’s life that were the most appealing.
Yet despite Levi’s insistence that The Periodic Table was not about the Holocaust, the one story which did focus on the Holocaust, Vanadium, was easily the most interesting. Even then, the story did not dwell so much on the horrors of the Holocaust but rather focused on Levi still working in chemistry at Auchwitz. It was not the section of the story that was set in Auchwitz but the section detailing Levi’s reflection on his experiences in the following decades that was the most interesting. In Vanadium, a camp guard from Auchwitz contacts Levi expressing repentence and requests a meeting. Levi is unsure of how to deal with the situation, and it seems as though he still hasn’t decided how he should feel about the camp guard at the time of writing The Periodic Table.
The stories focusing on Levi’s youth were also entertaining – such as Argon, Hydrogen, Zinc, Iron, Potassium and Nickel. Though most of these stories are about chemistry, what sets these stories apart from the others is that they aren’t really about chemistry – that’s just the common theme that ties them together. What the reader can actually see from these stories is the dramatic change in Italy’s political landscape over the years and the way that the rise of fascism affects Levi’s view of himself and the way that his peers view him.
The writing in The Periodic Table is extremely thoughtful and reflective. Despite the fact that some of the stories may hold more appeal than others, even the less interesting ones are carried by the strength of Levi’s writing, and make the best stories even more engaging when you finally reach them.
The Periodic Table is a book that I would definitely recommend to people, whether they’re interested in chemistry or not, although the book’s reluctance to cover the Holocaust was frustrating at times. If I could go back, I would read If This is A Man before The Periodic Table in order to prevent this.
“What do you care what other people think?” is the rhetoric posed by Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, in his collections of very entertaining anecdotes which comprise the book. Richard Feynman sets out to tell a story of his eventful life, leaving no stone unturned with his tell-tale humour, and profound skills of narration leaving an audience feeling one of many things; Moved, amused and in some stages often glued to a book which gives one an extremely good look into the life of the Nobel Peace Prize winner. What makes the book so thoroughly enjoyable is the ability of Feynman to connect with an audience, one which isn’t necessarily restricted, but as wide as it wants to be. Feynman shone a light on the world in a unique manner, and in his book he gives his inimitable perspective on various things in a style all audiences can enjoy. It was, as well as it’s predecessor “Surely you’re joking: adventures of a curious character,” very well received by scientists, professors and general common folk. I would, myself definitely regard it just as highly, as it is a flawlessly enthrals and captivates an audience.
‘You Say Potato’ is a book about English accents and how they are perceived in society. The famous linguist David Crystal is a descriptivist (someone who describes language as what it is and does not show any preference for any accent or dialect) who has worked on this book together with his son Ben (an actor). Both David and Ben share a passion for language and this book has a nice feel to it as rather than it just being words on a piece of paper to read, it feels as though you’re included in part of an informal conversation with both authors.
This book draws attention to the main accents in England and how they’re formed as well as the history of each accent and the opinions that the general public have, which can cause some negative stigmas attached to certain accents. As there are a lot of technical terms and names of people within the industry used in this book, the authors have included the use of footnotes next to each of these, where a description of what something or who someone is has been given at the bottom of the page, making it easier for the reader to understand the book even if they don’t have any background linguistic knowledge.
To make the book an easy reader for everyone, David and Ben have written it in a light hearted way with many jokes being passed between them that all readers are able to understand, making the book a less intense read so that the reader feels like they’re reading it more for leisure rather than for learning. Personally, this is one of my favourite linguistic books because there is so much information packed into just this one book that at the end, you’re left wanting to read it again and again.
The book is structured into four main parts: ‘Accent Passion’, ‘Accents Past’, ‘Accent Present’ and ‘Accent Future’. Part one is almost like an extended introduction to accents and addresses key linguistic developments and topics of conversation over the years that less experienced readers are more likely to have heard of and understand, such as, the negative stigma surrounding the ‘Brummie’ accent. What’s also discussed is the fact that there isn’t just a ‘northern’ or a ‘southern’ accent, that southern accent could be Estuary English, Cockney or West Country and that northern accent could be Mancunian, Scouse or Yorkshire.
In short, if I had to write a list of my ‘must read’ books, this would definitely be at the top because it combines everything you could want in a book: linguistic knowledge, humour and it is written by authors who share a deep passion for the world of language, whose extensive knowledge can be shared and enjoyed by all who read.
Sali Tagliamonte is a linguist at the University of Toronto, where she studies language variation and change. Her latest book, Teen Talk: The Language of Adolescents, was published in June.
I called Tagliamonte because I’d noticed more and more people using the word truly. All of a sudden it seemed to be everywhere: in work e-mails and movie reviews, in headlines, on Twitter, on Twitter, and on Twitter. “It truly is up to us,” Hilary Clinton said this summer in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. A week prior, in Cleveland, Trump had remembered his “truly great mother.”
Is truly trending? I couldn’t tell—Liane Moriarty’s book, Truly Madly Guilty, had just published. There had been that Savage Garden song in the nineties, and the Lionel Richie one in the eighties. I wanted to find out more, so I did what anyone with a linguistics question would do: I e-mailed Noam Chomsky. To my surprise, he wrote back within half an hour, suggesting I ask “an outstanding sociolinguist like William Labov.” So I did. Labov told me, “The person who has done the most work on intensifiers like truly is Prof. Sali Tagliamonte.”
I reached Tagliamonte on a train to Ottawa. She explained that an intensifier is a word that boosts another word’s meaning, like when, in Friends, Joey says: “This is so weird.” Soamplifies the emotional persuasiveness of the message, but it doesn’t change the factual content. Compare that with this line from Beowulf, where so is used in a construction and is therefore not really an intensifier but a comparative: “nothing so wise / From a warrior so young has ever reached.”
Tagliamonte studies fluctuations in intensifier usage and popularity. According to her paper, “So Weird; So Cool; So Innovative,” published in English Language and Linguistics, we cycle through intensifiers faster than other words. In the twelfth century, she writes, a word we’ve since abandoned, swiþe, was the most frequent intensifier. Walter W. Skeat, for example, described a woman as “a mayden swiþe fayr” in his 1280 edition of “The Lay of Havelok the Dane.” “Eventually,” Tagliamonte continues, “swiþe was supplanted by well. Well was then replaced by full, which was in turn replaced by right.” Robert of Gloucester’s Metrical Chronicle, from 1297, states “Engelond his a wel god lond.” About a century later, Chaucer, in the “General Prologue” to his Canterbury Tales, describes a woman who speaks French “ful faire and fetisly,” and a guy as “a verray parﬁt gentil knyght.” By 1900, a few centuries later, really appeared in print more often than very, pretty, and right. “Intensifiers,” Tagliamonte says, “are like fashion—they evolve often and, compared to the words they modify, very quickly.” I asked her a few questions about them.
Have you noticed an increase in the use of the word truly?
There’s very little use of it in my material—but that only goes up to 2010. Everything I work with has been collected and transcribed, and we can track language change in there, but we can’t track language change month to month, unless you do it on the Internet—and then, you know, you’d need to filter that material a lot. If you look at Google, and you search for truly in the last month, you can see that there are some hits. But whether that actually tells you that it’s trending, or how it’s trending, or who’s using it … that would have to be a study, and that study has not been done, as far as I know.
What’s an example of a way to track language change?
We have something called the “Toronto corpus” that represents a community with a wide age range, from nine-year-olds to octogenarians. These people are born anywhere from the early 1900s right through to the late eighties, like my youngest kids. You can see on my website—I’ve been tracking various linguistic changes over the last ten years, and it’s astounding how quickly certain systems are changing. What you’re picking up on with your observation about truly is that intensifiers tap into vibrant language change, because they are subject to fashion—people pick up on them very easily. I did this study of the TV series Friends. At that time, people were starting to use so very strongly. And I noticed it, just like you’re noticing people saying truly. I thought the best way to look at it would be to look at the most popular sitcom ever, right? We showed that the characters on this show were actually pushing the frequency of so usage forward very strongly.
You’re saying there’s actual feedback between the characters and the audience?
Yes. The data shows us that language changes in these very strong ways depending on what people think is cool or trendy. Intensifiers are a great way to track that—they are a litmus test for language change. And if you can show that it’s the young women that are picking up on this trend, then that’s another indicator of linguistic change. Because we know that women lead when it comes to linguistic change, 95 percent of the time.
Is that a real statistic?
Yeah, it’s real. People have replicated that finding over and over again in many studies all over the world. Women are the ones who push language forward. In my Friends study, for example, the women characters were using more of this new intensifier so than the guys. It was remarkable. When I did the 2008 study in Toronto, you could see that it was adolescent women, a lot more so than anyone else, who pushed forward that intensifier.
But an intensifier can only be used so much—and then it’s not intense. You have to pick a new one. That’s why intensifiers are good to track this development. If people keep using it and using it, then it’s not intense anymore. It loses its allure. If all the trendy people are using so, for example, but then if everyone starts using it, it’s no longer trendy. So you know Bill Labov—he told you to call me! He’s one of the foremost researchers in how languages changes. He came up with six foundational sociolinguistic principles, one of which says that women lead linguistic changes. Another one is that the middle classes lead linguistic change. People who are central to the community, with links down into the lower classes and up into the upper classes—those are the people who are kind of moving between the layers of society, and they transport the new features of society from one tier to the other, and language spreads in that way. I had one of my students look at intensifiers in Chaucer and it patterns beautifully with the different characters. Dickens is another writer who was very into language—he used language very effectively to depict where his characters were from, lower or upper class.
In your paper, you suggest that the actors themselves were bringing some of the dialogue to the show.
That was one of the things I argued, that Courteney Cox and the rest of the cast were picking up on this trendy thing outside of the show, and then they kept using it a little bit more. They picked up on what was already in the speech community. Friends was so popular, and those actors were so popular, that they actually had quite a lot of license to adapt the dialogue in their own way. Other shows don’t have that—so it was a particularly good show to tap into.
Does the heavy use of intensifiers in the globalized media threaten regional intensifiers?
That’s not clear. People like to sound like where they come from. You can only push this study so far. You can look at communities—do the young people want to leave that community to live in New York? Then they’re going to try and talk like people in the bigger world. But if they don’t want to leave, they’ll maintain their local words. So if you go to a small town in Nova Scotia, for example, people are saying “right good.” And if you go to small towns across the U.S., they’re probably using different intensifiers than people in New York do. In Chaucer it was well, that was “well good.” I hear my kids saying “super cool.” So it goes. Every generation has its way of intensifying.
Peter Nowogrodzki is the nonfiction editor of Fence.