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  • Basic Books

How We Talk

NJ Enfield

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An expert guide to how conversation works, from how we know when to speak to why huh is a universal word.

We all had teachers who scolded us over the use of um, uh-huh, oh, like, and mm-hmm. But as linguist N. J. Enfield reveals in HOW WE TALK, these "bad words" are fundamental to language.

Whether we are speaking with the clerk at the store, our boss, or our spouse, language is dependent on things as commonplace as a rising tone of voice, an apparently meaningless word, or a glance-signals so small that we hardly pay them any conscious attention. Nevertheless, they are the essence of how we speak. From the traffic signals of speech to the importance of um, HOW WE TALK revolutionises our understanding of conversation. In the process, Enfield reveals what makes language universally-and uniquely-human.

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Reader reviews (1)

  • Cool interview on Radio Adelaide half an hour ago. (Nov. 25) Only one flaw, not really important, which I'd only mention in written form so as to cause no offence: The interviewer did a very good job but she did a real hatchet job of the publisher's name. I'm gonna look for a hard copy of the book coz my old eyes and monitors ain't mates. Does Mr Enfield really think to converse is limited to humans? Sulphur-crested cockatoos around here make more sense than my two sons. Sensible speech may not be strictly limited to the birds, what! Imagine, conversing with God’s furry friends! Ready, re reptiles’ replies? We might even caw and crow and yawp and yelp our way through varsity together as prognosticated by Dr. Dolittle a la splendid renditions of Talk to the Animals by Rex Harrison, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Bobby Darrin among other stars. The lyrics of Leslie Bricusse’s masterly composition, in which he recommends attending college with quadrupeds, drip irony

    Paul Desailly

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