Tuesday 10 August 2021

Book Review: Speak Not - Empire, Identity and the Politics of Language by James Griffiths (Non-Fiction/Languages)

Title: Speak Not - Empire, Identity and the Politics of Language
Author: James Griffiths
Publisher: Zed Books
Publication Date: 21 October 2021
Pages: 264
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Non-Fiction / Languages
Source: ARC via NetGalley

As globalisation continues languages are disappearing faster than ever, leaving our planet's linguistic diversity leaping towards extinction. The science of how languages are acquired is becoming more advanced and the internet is bringing us new ways of teaching the next generation, however it is increasingly challenging for minority languages to survive in the face of a handful of hegemonic 'super-tongues'.

In Speak Not, James Griffiths reports from the frontlines of the battle to preserve minority languages, from his native Wales, Hawaii and indigenous American nations, to southern China and Hong Kong. He explores the revival of the Welsh language as a blueprint for how to ensure new generations are not robbed of their linguistic heritage, outlines how loss of indigenous languages is the direct result of colonialism and globalisation and examines how technology is both hindering and aiding the fight to prevent linguistic extinction.

Introducing readers to compelling characters and examining how indigenous communities are fighting for their languages, Griffiths ultimately explores how languages hang on, what happens when they don't, and how indigenous tongues can be preserved and brought back from the brink.


Speak Not by James Griffiths was an interesting and informative read. The first section, about Welsh, was more familiar to me, since, having grown up in the UK, I heard some of the debates and was aware of some of the key events from the mid-1990s onwards. However, the sections on Hawaiian and Cantonese were new to me and I found it fascinating to read about those languages and their struggles, having been unaware either were under threat. Griffiths' prose is written in a compelling, story-telling style that never feels dry, and this book will, I believe, appeal to both readers interested in languages and those interested in international politics. Hopefully more endangered languages can be saved the way Welsh was.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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