Green Books Campaign: Bodies and Language (Take 2)

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. On November 10th, 2010, 200 bloggers took a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco-friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on “green” books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris’ website.

Bodies and Language by Vaidehi Ramanthan This book I received from the publishers for the Green Book Campaign, which was held on November 10th, 2010. Unfortunately, the book arrived much too late (weeks after the event) so I was not able to write a review at the time. I did write a post about the use of environmentally friendly paper in books.

This book was a hard read, as I expected, because it was said to be “academical”. It’s a book for sociolinguists, and, being a psycholinguist myself, I thought I would find it hard, but not impossible to read.

The reality was indeed as expected: hard but not impossible to read. Just not interesting enough for me to read all the way through. I stopped at 2/3 of the book. Alas, a Did Not Finish. The lack of a deadline also played a role! With a deadline, chances are I would have worked my way through the book in its entirety.

Bodies and Language: What it is about

The main theme of the book is the real meaning behind medical words. For instance, chemotherapy might mean a therapy with toxic medicines that is supposed to cure you from a disease. However, the reality is a lot of suffering by the patient, who often feels terrible (and not at all “better”). The reality is also a partner who wants to help but can’t do much, and who, to the rest of the world, is playing a marginal role, but is actually also going through a bad time (worrying, caring for patient AND the household).

Bodies are often talked about in terms of their ailments by medical professionals, ignoring the individual (unique) human being that is the sufferer of the disease. The perception of the disease and daily experiences with the disease are often not thought about while treating the patients. Worse still, for the medical workers, the patient’s symptoms are their “normal” state, while for the patient it is just one aspect of their life.

Besides cancer, Ramanathan discusses Alzheimer’s disease, chronic ailments (such as diabetes), and communication challenges (such as autism,  (partial) deafness).

She looks at autobiographical writing of people with these diseases and of biographical information from their carers and other people involved. For instance, the chapter on Alzheimer’s is about how people regard themselves, what exactly do they consider to be part of their identity.

Bodies and Langage: What I thought

I found this book hard to read, as expected, but I found it extra hard because of the difficult language that is used. Not so much particular terms that I’m not used to, but the use of many difficult terms in one sentence and the way the sentences are structured. I’m not sure if this is sociolinguistic-speak or just the author’s writing style. For sure, my own PhD thesis, in English, was much simpler in linguistic structure (or would a sociolinguist make the same remarks about my thesis??).

I read the book with a pencil in my hand, underlining the sentences that I thought were most relevant and that would help me to get an understanding of the story the author was trying to tell.

The subject didn’t interest me as much as I thought it would. For a large part, I think this was because there were not many major new insights in the book (or not that I noticed). Many of the issues in the book were not new to me and only sometimes I would think “Ah yes!”, be struck by something that I had not considered before.

My main problem with the book, and that is absolutely my problem as a psycholinguist, is that there were no numbers in the book. The research presented here was qualitative rather than quantitative. I’m used to reaction times, reading times, eye focus (position in the text), that you can average and work out a level of significance from. If the results are significant then they are “true”. Otherwise, you can’t be sure.

In this book, the author analysed texts and I’m afraid to say, since I don’t know the methods and techniques behind this, to me this is quite arbitrary: you take a few pieces of text (maybe the ones that fit your hypothesis best), analyze them, and say “Hey, look, it is true!”. I’m definitely not being fair to the author here (and to most sociolinguists I would imagine), but that is the way I think about qualitative research. Just because I don’t know how it’s really done (and this is not mentioned in the book, because the reader should know already).

So, my unfair opinion of the book is that there was a lot that I already thought I knew, not many new insights for me, and a method of research that I’m not comfortable with.

I think, within the realm of sociolinguistics, this book is probably an asset, as it seems to discuss a topic that is not well researched yet. However, non-sociolinguists probably won’t gain much from the book.

Rating: 2.5/5

I got this book: from the Publisher, free for review.

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 136 (with references, I read to page 80)

First published: 2010

Genre: non-fiction, sociolinguistics, academic writing

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

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