When Mark Abley was six years old, he made a conscious decision to lose his British accent in order to fit in with the other children at his grade school in Alberta. "I guess the reason I'm telling you this story," the West Island-based writer, poet and journalist told The Chronicle last Friday, "is because for me, language was never something that was entirely innocent." Since then, he has come a long way, establishing a name for himself as an award-winning foreign correspondent and writer. His latest book, The Prodigal Tongue, explores the changing face of the English language. But if you're thinking the book is a series of interviews with linguists locked up in their ivory towers and surrounded by dusty tomes, you'll be in for a surprise. Though a Rhodes scholar with a greying beard, Abley approaches the subject with the gleeful enthusiasm of a teenager. In his search to figure out the future of English, he examines the birth and spread of hip hop, interviews computer-literate youth playing the latest MMORPG (and if you don't know what that is, this book is for you), watches multicultural and multilingual hotspots like Montreal and Los Angeles, and even looks at how landmark science fiction authors imagine the future of the language in their works. Of course, that doesn't mean the traditional guardians of language are ignored in Prodigal Tongue. One chapter focuses on a historical analysis of the role dictionaries have long played in shaping the English language, and includes interviews with current editors of the Oxford English Dictionary. In the hands of lesser writers this would be a tough subject to keep interesting, but Abley's vivid yet simple prose and his manner of directly involving the reader with his words make The Prodigal Tongue an extremely easy book to breeze through. On top of taking you through a whirlwind tour around the changing landscape of English, Prodigal Tongue is also a repository of interesting facts or anecdotes. Do you know what they call a pancake in South Korea? It's hat-kei-keu. "Does it sound vaguely familiar?" Asks Abley before giving us the answer: "its four syllables started off as the English word 'hotcake.'" Reading the book, you'll also find out that the "sinister insurance" a Montreal firm is offering you isn't really some kind of threat, but a simple mistranslation from French. So what are you waiting for noob?
New book should fly off shelves like hat-kei-keu