Multilingualism: A very short introduction

JC Maher (Oxford University Press, 2017), 168pp, £7.99 (pbk)
ISBN 978 01 98724 99 5

Reviewed by Caroline Petherick

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Multilingualism is a new title in OUP’s ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series. It joins over 500 other titles that range from Islam to Quantum Theory and Kierkegaard to Northern Ireland. The books in this series are actually quite intensely focused, perhaps appealing more to those who already have an understanding of the potential depths of study afforded by a given subject. They are ‘very short introductions’ only if you look at them in relation to some serious study in that same subject.

John Maher is professor of linguistics at Tokyo International University, so, unsurprisingly, his overview of the topic has the main theme that multilingualism is a highly desirable feature. This is not merely because it facilitates communication per se but also because, as found by several studies, the acquisition of more than one language increases and improves the overall functioning of the human brain.

One niggle: I found it oddly demanding to read, and I eventually worked out that this was because the author eschews more than minimal use of linking adverbials. So nearly every sentence is a single stand-alone item; it feels to me as though the text had originated in bullet list form. That said, the book is full of interesting information, illustrative anecdotes, snippets from history, myths debunked …

If you’ve read this piece you’re almost certainly interested in the use of language within and across cultures, and around the world. This book will provide you, then, with some fascinating insights from a variety of perspectives.

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