This book makes a good case for seeing linguistics as “the universal social science”, one that teaches us not just about language but about how we live and make sense of the world. When we learn how the world is made through words, we also learn to be sceptical of our current iteration of reality and more tolerant of other perspectives. If life can be differently worded, it can be differently lived.
The odd section can be somewhat hard going, despite Shariatmadari’s obvious enthusiasm, but some good jokes make up for that; I especially enjoyed a line on how Madonna’s accent, after years of life in Britain, became “more Downton than Downtown”. And, above all, this is a generous and enthralling study of the basis of how we communicate. At its close, Shariatmadari compares linguistics to Schatzkammer, a German term for treasure chamber. Readers of this fine book will enjoy taking part in this particular treasure hunt, with Shariatmadari serving as their more than able guide.