Spoken Here

Travels among Threatened Languages

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Whether on the other side of the world or in our own backyard, languages everywhere are fading into oblivion. Mark Abley explores what the human family stands to lose — and explains why some endangered languages continue to thrive.

Within the next couple of generations, most of the world’s 6000 languages will vanish, due mainly to the unstoppable tide of English. With an open mind and a well-worn passport, award-winning journalist and poet Mark Abley tells entertaining and vital stories about why languages matter. From Oklahoma to Provence, aboriginal Australia to Baffin Island, the cultures are radically different, but the problems of shrinking linguistic and cultural richness are painfully similar. Abley’s investigation provides a stunning glimpse of the beauty and intricacies of languages like Yiddish and Yuchi, Mohawk and Manx, Inuktitut and Provençal. More importantly, it offers a sympathetic and memorable portrait of the people who still speak languages under threat.

When a language dies out, gone too are stories that have been told for centuries, unique ways of seeing the world, and perhaps even ways of solving problems both large and small. Abley believes we must see languages as abundant sources of richness, wonder and usefulness. And he shows that hope still exists: that the determination of even one person can revive a whole language and its culture, in the process creating something new, changing and alive — exactly what languages do best.


1: Patrick’s Language

An old man watches a milky ocean roll in to the shore. High above the waterline, two children are skipping barefoot along an otherwise empty beach, its contours defined and guarded by a pair of mangrove swamps. A long, low island nudges the western horizon. This could be an...
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Spoken Here is a splendid, original work, written with a combination of the scholarly and the personal, the anecdotal and the researched, in voices that celebrate words and create pictures.... Abley’s point, persuasively and vibrantly made, is that we are all weakened by threads dropped from the tapestry of international languages and cultures.”
The Globe and Mail

“This generous, sorrow-tinged book is an informative and eloquent reminder of a richness that may not exist much longer.”
Publishers Weekly

“In showing us the joys of linguistic diversity, Abley scatters irresistible diamonds.”
Chicago Sun-Times

“Gracefully written, funny and frequently heartbreaking.”
New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating and at times moving account of how languages die... [a] brilliantly illuminating and unique language-travel book."

“A powerful and important book... His celebration of linguistic diversity is compelling, his diagnosis of its demise devastating.”
Sunday Times

“A cri de coeur, passionately and convincingly argued... Vivid and often funny...well-written and lively. Spoken Here should help to extricate this subject from the academic circles to which it has mostly been confined, and get it out into the wider world.”
New Statesman

“Timely... Spoken Here is a mix of travelogue, history, linguistics, journalism and finally agitprop on behalf of Babel... Books may be almost routinely described as ‘important’, but Mark Abley’s Spoken Here truly is.”
Sunday Herald

“Abley does not put forward a formula for saving endangered languages. He does, however, present his case in dramatic fashion. He argues with passion that they are as deserving of preservation as are biological species.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“The Montreal author’s new book, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages...chronicles his journey to Australia and the Isle of Man, to France, Oklahoma and around our country, in rich, elegiac detail, asking all along: What do we lose when the world loses another language?”
The National Post, Star Phoenix (Saskatoon)

"Abley’s enthusiasm is infectious; he is a passionate amateur, not a professional linguist, and his book may be the better for it."
Sunday Times

"The resounding humanity and poignancy of his writing is deeply affecting and ensures that he has created something much more powerful than an exercise in semantic analysis."

"Abley…makes us appreciate the richness that we’re all losing, and, even more keenly, the plight of the people who lose their cultural heritage, their independence, and in some cases their political rights, along with their language."
Independent on Sunday

"Brilliant and enjoyable…a corrective to the arid tedium of most writing on linguistics"

"A fine book about linguistic globalisation"
Evening Standard

"Abley conducts his study of languages as disparate as Inuktitut and Manx with great sensitivity"