The Prodigal Tongue

Dispatches from the Future of English

Publisher: Vintage Canada
The Prodigal Tongue takes a look at the wild, wacky and sometimes baffling road our language–English and others–is taking in its evolution. Where in the world will it end up?!

Mark Abley, author of Spoken Here, has created an entertaining and informative exploration of the way that languages–English, Japanese, French, Arabic and other major tongues–are likely to transform and be transformed by their speakers during the twenty-first century. Grammar and vocabulary are just the beginning; more importantly, this book is about people.

In places like Los Angeles, Tokyo, Singapore and Oxford, Abley encounters hip-hop performers and dictionary makers, bloggers and translators, novelists and therapists. He talks to a married couple who were passionately corresponding online before they met in “meatspace.” And he listens to teenagers, puzzling out the words they coin in chatrooms and virtual worlds. Everywhere he goes, he asks what the future is likely to hold for the ways we communicate.

Abley balances a traditional concern for honesty and accuracy in language with an untraditional delight in newly minted expressions. Lively, evocative, passionate and playful, this is a book for everyone who cherishes the words we use.

From the Hardcover edition.


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The Prodigal Tongue takes the reader on an informative and frequently entertaining journey.”
Edmonton Journal

“[A] witty and well-documented treatise on the ways — some of them alarming — in which the English language is changing.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“As a poet, journalist, editor, intrepid traveller, scholar and endlessly curious spirit, Abley brings an appropriately eclectic perspective to the subject. … Writing as an inquisitive, bemused Everyman, Abley leads us on a lively intellectual journey through uncharted territory, his comfort in the zone of ambiguity making him the ideal travel guide.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Well written . . . provocative.”
— William Safire, The New York Times

“Attuned to pop culture as well as to scholarship, Abley proves a deft social anthropologist.”
The Daily Telegraph

From the Hardcover edition.