Illustration of Robert De Niro by Matt Kindt
illustration by Matt Kindt
Issue 1, Fall 2014

You Talkin’ To Me? The Controversies of Language

Welcome to “You Talkin’ To Me? The Controversies of Language,” the premiere issue of The Common Reader. We hope you find our offering of articles about words, their meanings, and consequences, a stimulating, mind-tingling tour through language in all its forms and contexts, from politics, imagery, and music to food and the very dissemination and iteration of words themselves.

The Conquering Tongue

The world’s many endangered languages should not be preserved simply because of the simple, and shaky, notion that they preserve cultural world views. They should instead be preserved for their aesthetic and cognitive value.

Can Minor Languages Make Revolution?

The struggle of two Uzbek journalists shows how the “rules” of online activism—that social media campaigns can inspire widespread support and even changes in policy—are in fact the exception.

Schematic representation of Don Quixote and his squire

In Defense of Spanglish

Threats and fans have followed Ilan Stavans ever since he announced on Barcelona radio in 2002 his intention to translate Cervantes into Spanglish. This time, it’s for real.

Alas, Poor Webster, We Knew Him Well

In the old days of language usage, speakers took their commands from lexicographers who wrote the rules of what words meant. Thanks to the Internet, that chain of command has been called into deep question.

Jackie Robinson in his U.S. Army uniform.

Back-Seat Rebel

Jackie Robinson’s famous 1944 court-martial revealed not just the hierarchy of power in language, but also the tension between the U.S. Army’s efforts of integration and the ongoing struggle of black soldiers in their fight against Jim Crow.

The Rhythms of Dissent

As global audiences deepened their involvement with hip-hop culture and created local rap scenes of their own, the language of rap came to play an important role as they developed their own hybrid vernaculars.

Cooking With Words

If the translation is tantalizing enough—and even if it isn’t—language can transcend its boundaries beyond signifiers to land straight on the tongue. Novelist Qiu Xiaolong has the experience, and literary character, to prove it.

The Dead Language Society

Sholem Aleichem indisputably contributed to the golden age of modern Yiddish literature in a major way. But what does it mean for a writer to have contributed to a literature no longer flourishing?

The Tragic Wisdom of Solomon

Whether on page, or on screen, Solomon Northrup’s twelve years in bondage show the scars of slavery in all their vivid pain, contrasted against the promise of freedom.

Science Spoken Here?

Rashied Amini argues that, while the public’s knowledge of science is woefully inadequate, scientists must learn to bridge divides of religion and a media world prone to sensationalism if the situation is to improve.

Hue, Eye and Tongue

Few linguists share comparable command of the plethora of languages that are vividly and routinely on display throughout Deutscher’s text. The work is bold, ambitious, and strives to combine insights from history, classical studies, anthropology, linguistics, psychology, biology, and physiology, to address the recurring intellectually perplexing conundrum regarding ways that language may shape thought. In the final analysis, however, this book is an argument in favor of multidisciplinary approaches to analyses that strive to examine the inevitably complex relationship between language and cognition.