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Lonely Planet British Language & Culture

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Paperback: 256 pages / Publisher: Lonely Planet Publications / 3rd Revised Edition: 1 Mar 2013

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      01.11.2013 20:38
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      Handy pocket guide and stocking filler.

      As a member of the Amazon Vine* programme, I was intrigued when this item came up to order and review. I am a big fan of the Lonely Planet guide books and was interested to see how a book on my own language and culture would be written. The target audience for this book is likely to be those from other English language countries (or those that already have a good grasp of English) visiting Britain. It looks at the language and phrases used around England, Scotland and Wales and helpfully specifies the difference between these countries, Britain and the UK, which I know some Aussie friends struggle to understand ("Is England not the same as Britain then?" Err, no).

      I was surprised when the book arrived and it was just pocket sized. It has 247 pages which includes a word finder and an index and is divided into eight sections. The book is in colour but that is mainly in regard to title or box texts rather than pictures, although there are a few cartoon like sketches.

      The first chapter is 'A Short History of British' which looks (briefly) at British history and how it has shaped our language. I found this a very interesting section, as English has 'borrowed' more words from other languages than almost any other language. We still have at least 1000 Nordic words in general use today, back from the days when the Vikings were here. I think this chapter is a good introduction to the evolution of our language but it does only touch the surface. I am sure there are other books that would cover this in more detail if that is your particular area of interest. The second chapter 'Speaking British English' follows on from this nicely , dealing from pronunciations that may differ from how our American or antipodean friends may pronounce it. It also covers British spellings such as 'colour' and 'centre' which differ across the Atlantic. Terms of address are also covered, from the formal to the informal so you should be sorted** if you are ever invited to dine with the Queen.

      Chapter 3 is entitled 'Living Life - The British Way' and covers day to day expressions you may come across is you are an overseas visitor, such as things in the home ('bin' not 'trash can'), the school system, government, professions, business-speak and the like. This is followed on with chapter 4 - 'Eating, Drinking & Making Merry' which includes colloquial food terms such as 'bangers' and other terms that may seem unfamiliar to the overseas visitor, such as 'bap' or 'pasty'. Boxed texts will discuss topics like real ale and whisky, including terminology and the significance to your typical Brit. The fifth chapter on 'Sport and Entertainment' is along a similar vein in that it explains the more unfamiliar sports on the international scene, as well as the terminology and phrases that you may hear. Under Entertainment, our foreign friends will learn about cinema, theatre, TV, music and shopping, but mostly as far as terminology - phrases such as 'flicks', 'pantomime' and 'Marks & Sparks' are explained.

      The final three chapters concentrate on the language part of the book. Chapter 5 is 'Slang and Misunderstanding' which denotes those words us Brits take for granted, and use in everyday conversation such as 'boobs', 'dosh' and 'rank'. It also covers swear words and the many ways in which you can use the word 'piss'. The next chapter deals with regional variations. For example the London section has some examples of Cockney Rhyming Slang (although I have always believed 'whistle and flute' to be the slang for 'suit', but this book states it is 'tin flute'). Other regions throughout Britain also get the same treatment but I can't comment on the accuracy. The book also does a good job of explaining the different accents and how to pronounce words like the local. The final chapter looks at regional languages: Welsh and Scottish Gaelic ate the main two, but there are also small sections on Cornish and Scots (Lallans). I did find this chapter the least relevant, but if travelling to these parts, I am sure usage or at least an understanding of the language would be appreciated.

      I think the target market for this book is very much the visitor, but even as a 'local', I found it interesting and entertaining. I can see that this book would be helpful and interesting to a visitor, without going into too much depth. I also think many Brits would enjoy the book, it is easy to read and dip in and out willy-nilly*** and I would almost guarantee you will find something new in it that you didn't know about our language origins. The book has an RRP of £4.99 but is currently available on amazon for £3.74, so unlikely to break the bank. Worth a read.

      *An invitation only programme for high ranked Amazon reviewers where you can select books/products from a list once a month in the understanding that you review them on the site.
      ** The definition of 'sorted' is also included in the book - page 131 under Everyday Slang.
      *** An over-sight, no doubt. I can't find any reference to that in the book.

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