WorldView: A Language Blog

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WorldView Good Reads: Off the Press for January 2020

Published: January 20, 2020

Here are good reads from around the globe that have caught our attention during the month of January.

Freedom and Loss: Lessons from Beethoven. 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most consequential composers of all time, who wrote his most influential works when he was completely deaf. Arthur C. Brooks tells us how we can all learn from Beethoven, in this opinion piece from the December 13 edition of the Washington Post: “Deafness freed Beethoven as a composer because he no longer had society’s soundtrack in his ears. Perhaps therein lies a lesson for each of us. I know, I know: You’re no Beethoven. But … maybe you could relate to the great composer’s loss in some small way. Have you lost something that defined your identity? Maybe it involves your looks. Or your social prestige. Or your professional relevance. How might this loss set you free? You might finally define yourself in new ways, free from the boundaries you set for yourself based on the expectations of others … Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from the life of the great Beethoven. Take time to listen to the Ninth and give deep thought to the changes in your own life. You might not revolutionize music, but maybe you will discover joy in the freedom that can come from losing something, but allowing yourself to grow.”

The Tender Narrator. Olga Tokarczuk, Polish author and winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature, dedicated her lecture at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm to her belief in the power of literature in a world of information overload and divisive narratives. “The world is a fabric we weave daily on the great looms of information, discussions, films books, gossip, little anecdotes,” she said. “Today the purview of these looms is enormous—thanks to the internet, almost everyone can take part in the process, taking responsibility and not, lovingly and hatefully, for better and for worse.” She recalls, as a child, having an instinctive understanding through fairy tales and myth of the connectedness of things, the fact that all of us—humans, animals, plants, objects, landscapes—are bound together. As she grew older, she lost that sense of deep interdependence. It is what, as a writer, she has yearned to rediscover through her imaginative life, recognizing that creativity is not abstract and removed from the world, but a continuation of it. Her lecture is a call to action: “I must tell stories as if the world were a living, single entity, constantly forming before our eyes, and as if we were a small and at the same time powerful part in it.” As The Guardian comments, “Her words offer a warning, but also a shard of optimism, of possibility despite the darkness.”

Decade of the Pronoun. On Jan. 3, the American Dialect Society selected “(my) pronouns” as the word of the year and “they” as word of the decade. The vote highlights the trend of people presenting their preferred pronouns in email signatures and on social media accounts—for example “pronouns: she, her, hers, herself.” Pronouns are sparking a national debate, prompting new policies in schools, workplaces, even prisons, about what pronouns to use. Colleges ask students to declare their pronouns along with their majors and conferences print name tags with space to add pronouns. People started doing this to help destigmatize a nonbinary person’s declaration of their pronouns. Though it can drive some pedants mad, language changes as culture changes. And as pioneering linguist Dennis Baron argues in a new book, the pronoun battle over has been waged for centuries. Miriam Berger offers a guide to how gender-neutral language is developing around the world.

World101 is a free online course that explains the fundamentals of international relations and foreign policy. Using multimedia storytelling, World101 invites those who are new to international relations to investigate what lies at the core of the most important global topics. The program is intended for people of any age, both inside and outside of formal academic settings.

Around the World in 5 Kids’ Games. Hand-clapping games are played in schoolyards everywhere, in every language. In New York City’s diverse playgrounds, kids play games in Haitian Creole, Korean, Spanish, Arabic and Polish, just to name a few.

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