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Thirteenth Issue
Volume 7, No. 1


O Mordecai, Where Art Thou?
By Juan Rodriguez


Quebecite: A Jazz Fantasia In Three Cantos
Reviewed by Kelly Murphy

A House By The Sea
Reviewed by Ian McGillis

The Speaking Cure
Reviewed by Mark Heffernan

The Applecross Spell
Reviewed by Eleni Zisimatos Auerbach

Universal Recipients
Reviewed by Eleni Zisimatos Auerbach

Black Bird
Reviewed by X.I. Selene

A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali
Reviewed by Edward R. Smith

Song For My Father
Reviewed by Mary Soderstrom

The Heart Is An Involuntary Muscle
Reviewed by Kim Bourgeois

Another Book About Another Broken Heart
Reviewed by Poppy Wilkinson

Without Cease The Earth Faintly Trembles
Reviewed by Jessica Ticktin

fiction at a glance

After All!
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Moosehead Anthology #9: Career Suicide! Contemporary Literary Humour
Reviewed by Ian McGillis


Respectable Burial: Montreal's Mount Royal Cemetery
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Shoshanna's Story: A Mother, A Daughter, And The Shadows Of History
Reviewed by Elizabeth Johnston

Louis Riel
Reviewed by Philip Hawes

Tables For One: A Spanish Journal
Reviewed by Sarah Rosenfeld

Practice Imperfect
Reviewed by Joan Eyolfson Cadham

Ha! A Self-murder Mystery
Reviewed by Anne Cimon

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages
Reviewed by Jill Rollins

non-fiction at a glance

Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

A Love Of Reading: The Second Collection
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Entering The War Zone: A Mohawk Perspective On Resisting Invasions
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Drive I-95: Exit By Exit Info, Maps, History And Trivia
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Crooked Smile
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

Four Hundred Brothers And Sisters
Reviewed by Margaret Goldik

After Notman: Montreal Views - A Century Apart
Reviewed by Ian McGillis


Snow Formations
Reviewed by Bert Almon

In The Worshipful Company Of Skinners
Reviewed by Bert Almon

Bamboo Church
Reviewed by Bert Almon

An Abc Of Belly Work
Reviewed by Bert Almon

young readers

Emma's Story
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

The Mole Sisters And The Fairy Ring
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

The Mole Sisters And The Way Home
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Learning With Animals
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Sink Or Swim
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Suki's Kimono
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Peter's Pixie
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

A Friend For Sam
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Sam's First Halloween
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Tales Of Court And Castle
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Think For Yourself: A Kid's Guide To Solving Life's Dilemmas And Other Sticky Problems
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Nellie Mcclung: Voice For The Voiceless
Reviewed by Carol-Ann Hoyte

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages
By Mark Abley
cloth 322 pp.
Random House Canada 0-679-31101-7

Use it or Lose it

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New Document Time and again in the fifteen chapters of Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, we are reminded of the idea that "Unless it's written down, a language is nothing more than mouthfuls (or handfuls) of air…its patterns of sound exist only as long as people use them." Hardly surprising then, that the most successful aspect of Mark Abley's mix of scholarship and storytelling is the portrayal of the many widely dispersed people he interviews on the states of their besieged, yet sometimes amazingly resilient languages. As well, wearing his travel writer's hat, Abley does a fine job of bringing the various settings vividly to life, further securing our attention.

"In the end, should anybody care that thousands of languages are at risk?" he asks early in the book. In his ensuing encounters with cultures and languages as diverse as Provençal, Yiddish, Mati Ke, and Boro, Abley makes us answer "yes" because he, and we, come to care particularly about the people whose commitment and efforts keep their beloved tongues from extinction.

A series of premises determine the ports of call for Abley's odyssey. Key to the argument for preserving languages, he suggests, is that they can help to ensure cultural identity and strengthen the ability to resist "the onslaughts of modernity." The sad chapters on the extinct South American Atures and the near-dead Aboriginal Mati Ke culture and dialect notwithstanding, the surprising revitalizations of Manx and Faroese (island descendants of Gaelic and Old Norse respectively) provide credibility for this idea. Other absorbing chapters on, for example Welsh, Hebrew, Yiddish, Mohawk, and related indigenous languages support another premise Abley explores in depth: shared language is as vital to emotional identity and feelings of self-worth as it is to cultural identity and survival.

Moreover, Abley shows that peoples must commit themselves not only to using their threatened languages but also to deploying modern technologies to do so. Radio broadcasts in Mohawk from southern Ontario's CKRZ and in Welsh from station Sianel Pedwar Cymru are popular amongst their listeners, providing inspiration as well as an effective means of dissemination. However, the increasing use of western Australia's modern Kriol (a type of Creole) is effectively burying traditional aboriginal languages; Inuit culture and languages are being eroded by English television. The conclusion? Languages that are flexible will survive; those that are not probably won't.

Finally, Abley confronts the widely held perception that the juggernaut of English will roll on inexorably, eventually demolishing a shrinking body of languages. The subjects of his interviews eloquently tell him this need not be so.

Devotion, determination, pride and sheer "bloody-mindedness" characterize these people, living and dead. We meet, among others, Jean-Claude Roux and Patric Choffrut, whose passionate, conflicting defenses of the ancient Provençal tongue suggest they might unwittingly oversee its death rather than ensure its survival; Chava Rosenfarb, Peysach Fiszman, and Ruth Wisse, fighting their various fights for Yiddish; visionary (read possessed) Eliezar Perelman, who single-handedly transformed exclusively religious Hebrew into the vernacular Hebrew of present-day Israel; and Phil Gawne and Leslie Quirk, intractable champions of Manx. Their stories and personalities make the book's most compelling, convincing arguments for the protection of threatened languages, whatever the odds.

Despite Abley's sometimes defensive tone, (after all, his theses are not new), his too-frequent interruption of narrative flow with indigestible chunks of linguistic exposition, and his annoying habit of deflecting attention from his subjects to himself, Spoken Here is a thorough and absorbing if somewhat melancholy exploration of the pressures on minority languages. Above all, though, it is a highly satisfying introduction to the people who fiercely speak up for their traditional tongues.

Jill Rollins teaches senior English at Lower Canada College.