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Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing:…
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Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing: Encounters with the Mysteries &…

by Daniel Tammet

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Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant whose talents include quick mathematical calculations & memorization, multiple languages and colour synesthesia. He has performed various public stunts, presumably for book publicity, such as learning Icelandic in 1 week and then being interviewed about it on Icelandic Television and memorizing/reciting Pi to 22,514 digits. I first learned of him about a decade ago from reading various articles / reviews related to his autobiography "Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant".

At the time, the draw of interest for me was that Tammet had changed his family name after finding the Estonian word "tamm" (oak) on the internet. He adopted the new name as he preferred the colours and shapes that it conveyed to his synesthetic sensibility. I hadn't read any of his books previously, but this most recent 2017 title with essays on various languages or methods of speech and writing intrigued me.

The essays cover a wide range of topics including Tammet's own teaching of English in Lithuania, Icelandic naming rules, L'Academie Francaise and its official control of the French language, Sign Language, Telephone speaking conventions and habits, writing with Oulipo constraints (an essay which is itself written with an Oulipo constraint), the attempts to preserve the Manx language (the Gaelic language unique to the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea), translating the Old Testament Bible, whether AI bots will ever pass a conversational Turing Test etc. All of these were intriguing and full of linguistic trivia that you likely have never heard about before (at least I certainly hadn't).

Oddly, there is no essay about the Mänti language which is a Finnic-based language which Tammet invented by adapting his favourite Finnish and Estonian words. Perhaps it is covered in another one of his several books which I am now even more eager to read ( )
  alanteder | Dec 20, 2017 |
Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing - Encounters with the Mysteries and Meanings of Language is a collection of essays by Daniel Tammet. Daniel is an autistic savant with synaesthesia and his love of language and words intrigued me enough to pick up this book and find out more. What I learned quickly was that Daniel Tammet is a little out of my league. His collection of essays takes an almost academic look at language and meaning, and I wasn't prepared for just how many languages he would reference; narrowly thinking this book would be primarily about the English language. I later learned Tammet is a polyglot and has mastered 10 languages: English, Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic, and Welsh, the majority of which are referred to in this book.

Most interesting essays
An Englishman at L'Academie Francaise was about the group of people assigned the task of refining the French dictionary. This felt like a glimpse into another century, so to discover this is still happening today was a thrill.

My favourite essay was Talking Hands, which was essentially about ASL. I didn't know that the persons's stance - leaning forward, leaning back or to the left/right - also added meaning to sign language and I just loved this essay.

I enjoyed A Grammar of the Telephone, which was all about how the emerging technology of the time inspired a new way for people to begin a conversation and talk to each other without the cues of body language.

Least enjoyable essays
Translating Faithfully was about translating the Old Testament and Conversational Human looked at whether chatbots will ever sound truly like 'us'.

Most impressive essay
OuLiPo is the essay title, but also a "loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques." (Wikipedia) While writing about these writers, Tammet does so without ever using the letter 'e'. It was amusing and easily the most impressive piece of writing in the collection.

I recommend this book to those with an interest in linguistics. Those with a love of the English language might find themselves a little out of their depth in some of the essays but there's no reason why you can't pick and choose which essays to read. It will be well worth the effort.

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia * ( )
  Carpe_Librum | Oct 23, 2017 |
Daniel Tammet’s world is judgment-free. He observes and absorbs. He is fascinated by the tiny, and digs until he finds it. It blooms in his hands, taking on all kinds of attributes. He assigns connections and relationships to ever-smaller units of his observations. He delights in his manufactured cosmos of letters, numbers and colors. But there it ends.

He is an interesting character. In his first public speech, he recited the value of pi. To 22,000 places. From memory. Over a five hour period. His particular flavor of autism has given him great powers. But very little of this book is about him.

Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing is a survey of interpersonal communications. There are chapters on telephone etiquette, the deaf, OuLiPo (fun exercises with words and letters) and various foreign languages. Tammet likes words and he has long chains of them (with translation) that he appreciates for their sound or their spelling or their power. So he is especially appreciative of poetry and its multipurposed words. He cites many snippets of poems, translating when necessary.

But it is just a survey. He draws no conclusions. He does not leverage or even connect. The endless chains of foreign words are totally forgettable. Everything he writes about is covered in far greater depth elsewhere. And it is all much less interesting than his own stories of adapting to society, for example, teaching English to Lithuanian women at the age of 19 - knowing no Lithuanian at all. So the best chapters are the first three – about him. The rest are linked in that he discusses means of interpersonal communication. But don’t ask why, because he doesn’t say. It is not very satisfying.

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Jun 4, 2017 |
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Is vocabulary destiny? Why do clocks 'talk' to the Nahua people of Mexico? Will A.I. researchers ever produce true human-machine dialogue? In this mesmerizing collection of essays, Daniel Tammet answers these and many other questions about the intricacy and profound power of language. Tammet goes back in time to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; he looks at the music and patterns that words make, and how languages evolve and are translated. He meets one of the world's most accomplished lip readers in Canada, learns how endangered languages like Manx are being revived and corresponds with native speakers of Esperanto in their mother tongue. He studies the grammar of the telephone, contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects, and also asks: will chatbots ever manage to convince us that they are human? From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, "Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing" is a fascinating journey through the world of words, letters, stories and meanings, and an extraordinary testament to the stunning range of Tammet's literary and polyglot talents.… (more)

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