The Language Imperative

The Language Imperative

The Language Imperative

The Language Imperative


Many of us view language as a tool, a means by which to communicate our thoughts and emotions. But is there more to language than just "talk"? Can learning languages actually change the way you think? In The Language Imperative, best-selling author and linguistic scholar Suzette Haden Elgin examines the power of language to shape our lives. She confronts some of the most pressing issues parents and educators face today: Is it a good or bad idea for Americans to have command of more than one language? Should learning languages be a luxury for only the rich? Or should it be a goal of the public educational system as well? Based on solid science and filled with personal insights, The Language Imperative is required reading for anyone interested in how words shape our lives, both as individuals and as a nation.


Despite bilingual nannies, tapes, picture books, and even sending their kids abroad for the summer, bilingual parents in this country are losing the battle to maintain their children's grasp of a foreign language. . . . The challenge to raise a child bilingually becomes even more difficult for languages of lesser prevalence.

(Mireya Navarro, quoted in Landers 1996, page 5)

The quotation above describes a reality very unlike the one we ordinarily see described and discussed in the mainstream media. How could it be a challenge to raise a child bilingually or multilingually, as Navarro claims? All the news stories and editorials are about the dangers of multilingualism in the United States and the need for defensive strategies against it, as if American English might vanish at any moment! With the single exception of documentaries about Native Americans, we see no news reports in which parents are lamenting the fact that--despite their best efforts--their children speak only English.

We need to know which version of reality is accurate, and we need to find out how and why two such wildly differing portraits of our language environment can exist simultaneously. We can be reasonably sure that a communication breakdown like this one occurs only when two or more groups of people are using the same words and . . .

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