Four Words for Friend The Rewards of Using More than One Language in a Divided World Marek Kohn

Publication date:
10 Mar 2020
Yale University Press
264 pages: 235 x 156mm
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A compelling argument about the importance of using more than one language in today’s world

In a world that has English as its global language and rapidly advancing translation technology, it’s easy to assume that the need to use more than one language will diminish—but Marek Kohn argues that plural language use is more important than ever. In a divided world, it helps us to understand ourselves and others better, to live together better, and to make the most of our various cultures.
Kohn, whom the Guardian has called “one of the best science writers we have,” brings together perspectives from psychology, evolutionary thought, politics, literature, and everyday experience. He explores how people acquire languages; how they lose them; how they can regain them; how different languages may affect people’s perceptions, their senses of self, and their relationships with each other; and how to resolve the fundamental contradiction of languages, that they exist as much to prevent communication as to make it happen.

Marek Kohn is the author of The Race Gallery, As We Know It, A Reason for Everything, and Trust.

“Beautifully written ... Makes a powerful case for knowing more than one language as a life-enriching skill that may enlarge our sympathies in a world that wants to build walls.”—Steven Poole, Guardian

“Fascinating... [Kohn] doesn’t hold out much hope of the Anglosphere learning to value other languages. Readers of this book will have no doubt how badly we will lose out as a result.”—Daniel Hahn, Spectator

“[In Kohn's final chapters] we can feel most viscerally the power of language and the pain of its loss, and at the same time arrive at an understanding of the fury and resentment fell by peoples all over the world when they believe that their languages and cultures are being eroded or taken away.”—Maureen Freely, Literary Review

“The latest book by science writer Marek Kohn is truly one for our times” —Anil Ananthaswamy, New Scientist

“One of the great pluses of this book is that it exists outside the Anglophone bubble. Many familiar applied linguists receive no mention. Instead, less familiar authorities and sources are drawn upon. Kohn is good at asking and answering the questions how? And why? How does multilingualism work and why does it matter?”—Christina Healey, British Association for Applied Linguistics Newsletter

“A breathtaking achievement. Marek Kohn is a real writer, a natural story-teller with a remarkable ability to present linguistic situations in a pictorial way.”— David Crystal, author of How Language Works and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language

"This is an engaging book about what it means to have more than one language at your disposal: how it feels, what it enables, and the complications it can cause. Kohn writes crisply, combining technical savvy with keen social insight and self-knowledge. The result is a generous vision of linguistic plurality - and of a world in which unity is possible not in spite of diversity, but because of it."— Henry Hitchings, author of The World in Thirty-Eight Chapters or Dr Johnson's Guide to Life

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