Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[books] The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image

I'm still reading Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image Powell's | Amazon ], but I was moved to comment by some passages this morning. As I said to tltrent a day or two ago, I am quite interested in his underlying thesis, but his scholarship is little more than an opinionated presentation of selected historical data. I know enough to see where Shlain is generalizing from a single scrap of information, and his prose style doesn't seem to distinguish these opinions and speculations from the historical record. I'm staying with it because he does provide a lot of specificity and detail, but it's a bit like reading The White Goddess — thematically fascinating but not academically informative.

This morning I got to the part where he explained that Chinese does not have parts of speech, or even words really. The dude totally jumped the shark. I lived in Taiwan for years as a kid, picked up bits and pieces of Mandarin back in the day. I studied the language formally in college for four semesters. I'm pretty damned sure Chinese has words. Either Shlain is articulating some pretty esoteric linguistic theory, or he's talking out his ass. Running into such a profoundly silly set of assertions has significantly undermined my already shaky confidence in the rest of the book.

I'm not quite ready to dump him, but that was an egregious intellectual foul.
Tags: books, klog, language

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened