Title: Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing
Author: Daniel Tammet
Genre: Essays. Non-Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 29th August, 2017
Synopsis: A mind-expanding, deeply humane tour of language(s) – and those who speak, study, and invent them – by the bestselling author of BORN ON A BLUE DAY and THINKING IN NUMBERS.
Is vocabulary destiny? Why do clocks ‘talk’ to the Nahua people of Mexico? Will A.I. researchers ever produce true human-machine dialogue? In this mesmerizing collection of essays, Daniel Tammet answers these and many other questions about the intricacy and profound power of language.
In EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING, Tammet goes back in time to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; in Iceland, he learns why the name Blær became a court case; in Canada, he meets one of the world’s most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots; contrives an ‘e’-less essay on lipograms; studies the grammar of the telephone; contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects; and corresponds with native Esperanto speakers – in their mother tongue.
A joyous romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings, EVERY WORD IS A BIRD WE TEACH TO SING explores the way communication shapes reality. From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, these essays display the stunning range of Tammet’s literary and polyglot talents.
In a series of essays. Daniel Tammet tells a story of language, of what language means to different people, and how his high functioning autistic savant syndrome and early childhood epilepsy shaped his understanding of language. To Daniel, in these early years, words were numbers, that evolved into images, in a way that only he could understand, and from there, he journeyed across the world, experiencing how other languages dealt with names, with sign language and lip reading, and the differing ways the Deaf community viewed themselves and experienced the world and their culture, and how language can define us, define our place in society and the world. Daniel’s essays explore why certain names are banned in Iceland, and the talking clocks of the Nahua. His focus on languages and how they evolved and sit alongside each other is often compared to British English, usually pointing out subtle differences in how they work, and offering explanations for the uninitiated in other forms of language an understanding of these differences. The essays investigate the power of language and how our use of the language or languages we know admit us to certain aspects of the world and our culture, or exclude us, or at least, limit our understanding, and may require us to have some help – through out his journey, Daniel had help from people who spoke and used languages he was unfamiliar with, but his keen interest in how language worked helped him to come to understandings and ultimately, write this book of essays.
The patterns and the music that words make are how we teach words to sing, how each word, as one essay ends, is a bird we teach to sing. The beauty of Daniel’s books lies in his interest in language, not only how it works for him and operates for him, but how it operates, works and makes meaning for others and their language. It is the mysteries of language that appeal to Daniel, and as a reader, they appeal to me to. The way one author writes, for example, is unique from every other author, and every individual experiences language differently. It could be visual, either sign language or seeing the shape of a word – something that as a writer I can relate to as sometimes the image of a word appears before the actual word itself, although in my case, this depends on the word, and not every word has an image, sound, colour or number attached to it as it might with others, who experience language through synaesthesia – which will manifest differently for those with that language experience.
Daniel has some interesting experiences with language and linguistics across the world, including the differentiation between deaf with a small d and Deaf – the former indicates, in Daniel’s work, those who are deaf but do not fully associate with Deaf culture, whereas Deaf is said to be more about the community and the essay this is in discusses sign language, cochlear implants and how children who grow up in mostly hearing families adapt and learn language differently to children who learn to sign early on. Daniel balances these, I felt, in a way that anyone can understand as he does with his other essays, and shows the importance of language to the hearing and non-hearing communities, and how different people identify within subcultures and communities as well as the larger, wider communities they are a part of.
Presented in short essays rather than a lengthy narrative style, I read these essays in order, but they are not interconnected, other than through the theme of language and linguistics, and could possibly be read out of order or consecutively – either will, I think, allow the reader to appreciate the book and experience it in a way that works for them, which connects to the theme of language and the operation of language through the world and its various countries and communities, and the theme of communication in written, spoken and visual forms that differ from person to person as well.
Interweaving his journey of reading and his experiences with the facts gave a human face to the story – Daniel’s written expression is lovely, and easy to understand. It is not complex, but there are levels of complexity. He has written for a broad audience and I hope future readers can gain as much as I have from this collection of essays.
This was a very interesting book; an exploration into language and its mysteries is always interesting and provides a deeper understanding of language for us. It allows a wider world of language to be opened up and explored, and understood, where previously, we may not have understood beyond our own linguistic experiences. This book would be of interest to anyone with an interest in language, and linguistic students, and will hopefully be something useful to students of linguistics to broaden their understanding of how language operates in the world beyond what they know.