The Miscellaneous Folk Life

Love and Other Foreign Words, by Erin McCahan

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This book made me wish I’d taken sociolinguistics in university. Trust me, this is a good thing.

Josie is 15, gifted, the youngest of three sisters, and obsessed with languages and translation. Not just English vs. French or Spanish, but the variations of the English language that make up the different parts of her life. She is most comfortable speaking Josie, but also understands the languages of High School and College (called, respectively, Ohmig*d and Ohmig*d 2.0), Boyfriends and Beautiful Girls. About Josie’s sister and friend, she says: “Sophie and Maggie, to varying degrees of formality, speak the language of beautiful women. I can translate it because I grew up hearing it, but it is not my mother tongue.”

The lens of different languages (or maybe different dialects?) works well to show Josie’s perspective of the people around her. Genius-level smarts run in her…

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The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view, or otherwise influences their cognitive processes. Popularly known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined to include two versions:

Strong version: that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories
Weak version: that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour.