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Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic [Hardcover]

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Item description for Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic by Elizabeth Little...

In this decidedly unstuffy look at the staid world of languages, Elizabeth Little uses her favorite examples from languages dead, difficult, and just plain made-up to reveal how language study is the ticket to traveling the world—without leaving the comforts of home. Little's exploration of “word travel” includes:

• Shona, a language lacking distinct words for “blue” or “green”
• Why Icelandic speakers must decide if the numbers 1-4 are plural
• Which language is the only one lacking verbs
• Just what, exactly, the Swedish names of IKEA products mean

Fully illustrated with hilarious sidebars, Biting The Wax Tadpole also addresses classic cases of mistranslation. For example, when Chinese shopkeepers tried to find a phonetic written equivalent of Coca-Cola, one set of characters they chose were pronounced “ke-kou ke-la.” It sounded right, but it translated literally as “bite the wax tadpole.” Not quite what Coke had in mind, but in this off-kilter ode to the words of the world, it's just another example of language taking you someplace interesting.
“Charming anecdotes, witty sidebars, and attractive illustrations … Little's strong sense of humor never overwhelms her love of languages in this fascinating yet educational introduction to linguistics for a wide, pop-savvy audience.”
Publishers Weekly

“Biting the Wax Tadpole is witty, sassy, and laugh-out-loud funny. Little convincingly demonstrates that, as she puts it, ‘language is nothing less than a great adventure.' So is her book.”
–Kitty Burns Florey, author of Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog
Elizabeth Little is a writer and editor living in New York City. She has worked as a literary agent and as a writer and editor for the travel guide Let's Go: China, and she writes regularly for The New York Times Travel section. This is her first book.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   184
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.8" Width: 7" Height: 0.9"
Weight:   0.95 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Nov 1, 2007
Publisher   Melville House
ISBN  1933633336  
ISBN13  9781933633336  

Availability  0 units.

More About Elizabeth Little

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! A graduate of Harvard University, Elizabeth Little is the author of the nonfiction books Biting the Wax Tadpole and Trip of the Tongue. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Elizabeth Little was born in 1981.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Reference > Foreign Languages > General
2Books > Subjects > Reference > General
3Books > Subjects > Reference > Words & Language > Linguistics

Reviews - What do customers think about Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic?

Absolutely beguiling -- if you're a language geek.  Apr 1, 2008
It's time for the annual sheap-shearing contest in the Aberfan Valley. You're there, checking your flock before entering. How do you count?

Yan, tan, tether, mether, pip, azer, sezar, akker, conter, dick, yanadick, tanadick, tetheradick, metheradick, bumfit, yanabum, tanabum, tetherabum, metherabum, jigget.

This vestigial vigesimal counting system is just one of the many delights to be found in Elizabeth Little's completely enchanting book of musings on language. As she puts it, the words are "utterly charming, sounding like nothing so much as the names a young Will Shakespeare might have conjured up for a litter of adorable kittens." She's right -- I have no words to describe how much joy that little sequence "yanadick, tanadick, tetheradick, metheradick, bumfit" brings me, except to say that when I first read it, I literally squealed with delight . And how often does one get to do that these days?

Though the chapter names are sober: "NOUNS, VERBS, NUMBERS, MODIFIERS, SPEECH", this is a book which romps, gambols, and frolics along the highways and byways of language, unearthing fascinating nuggets along the way. Little claims no formal qualification for writing on linguistic topics, other than a lifelong enthusiasm for language. In writing such a wonderful book, she has demonstrated that no other qualification is needed.

If you are a language geek (like me), this book gets 5 stars hands down. Though it seems hard to believe, not everyone will stare transfixed by the beauty of the declension table specifying all 18 Hungarian case endings that Little includes in the book. But for those of you who find such matters eerily fascinating (and you know who you are!), "Biting the Wax Tadpole" is a garden of earthly delights.
A Fun Look at World Linguistics  Jan 26, 2008
As a professional writer, I really should have much more than a passing interest in the finer points of grammar and linguistics. So, to assuage my guilt, I periodically try to find a book that will help me learn more about English and its illogical curiosities, not to mention its austere technicalities. It can be a bit embarrassing. For example, if someone who knows that I'm a writer asks me to define the copulative then I'll try to change the conversation to football, which I find fifty times more interesting than grammar. Of course, it depends who's asking.

This book caught my eye initially because it's yellow. Every other book about the language is light blue, dark blue, light mauve, taupe, or fawn. I also liked the title which is as strong a non sequitur as Monty Python's Flying Circus. Most books about linguistics have dreary titles and a dreary layout. Memo to publishers. Try this next time...The Hooters Monthly Guide to Semantics and Participles, or Debbie Does Declensions. This approach might increase sales and interest.

While Biting the Wax Tadpole is a serious look at a serious subject, Elizabeth Little writes with a warm, self-effacing, and generous style that makes the technical interesting and fun. To be honest, some of the work is a bit deep for me and might be best for, say, a tenured professor of linguistics, but the the journey around the world's languages is a crazy ride that makes me appreciate my native language and hope that I never get caught in Swaziland trying to find a square meal. I, for one, am glad that we don't have masculine and feminine nouns with no logical way to determine gender. Imagine what the political correctness mafia here would do with that system! Look at what they have organized, as Little points out, with "alumni."

Anyway, this book is a must for anyone who loves language and/or works in the field. Biting the Wax Tadpole provides an intriguing and witty introduction to how we communicate. And it's yellow.

I hope that Elizabeth Little writes many more books--on many more subjects.
The wittiest book on the quirks of language you'll ever find!  Dec 11, 2007
Little's look at the world of languages, their common traits, and their huge range of differences, will introduce everyone but the most well-informed of linguistic scholars to the unique and at times amusing quirks of language. From languages that click, to languages with only three names of colors, Little takes us on a grand tour through both time and space, broadening our horizons and understandings of history and culture as evidenced by the way people have used language.

The real charm of the book, however, is Little's frequent use of pop cultural references, witty remarks, and double entendres, to make what could be a dry topic turn out simply effervescent. Any reader will be infused with Little's own passion for languages after turning just a few short pages.

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