Title: Figures of Speech:
Six Histories of Language & Identity in the Age of Revolutions
Author: Tim Cassedy
Genre: History/Linguistics
Pages: 296
Rating: 3.5 of 5
Future Release Date: 1/3/19 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of this review)

In the 18th and 19th centuries, intellectuals commonly believed that language “made the difference between man and man.” That is, certain characteristics of a language (phonemes, orthography, vocabulary, etc.) shaped its speakers’ way of thinking and could allow others to draw valid generalizations about them. Tim Cassedy examines the lives of six individuals who tried to use language as a means of shaping identity (individual, national, or international). He seeks to show that the conclusions drawn from this line of thinking usually did little more than confirm existing biases.

The stories themselves will hold your attention if you have an interest in language, but there is some redundancy in their telling. For me, there was occasionally the feeling of “I think maybe he’s reading too much into this,” but that’s pretty much par for the course in academic books …and he’s the expert so maybe it’s just me. Overall, the book provided me with new historical information and kept my interest.

Unfortunately, the advanced reader copy that I was provided was very poorly formatted and included occasional “words” or “phrases” of gibberish that were clearly placeholders for something else in the finished version. This made parts of the book hard to review. I suspect that some of the charts, illustrations, typefaces, and comments that were nearly unreadable in the ARC will be helpful in the original and probably bump this up from a 3.5 to a 4 star read.

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