Tag Archives: book

Appreciating Our Languages as Writers


World Language Day is an event held by some universities in the U.S. to popularize knowledge of world cultures and languages among general public, particularly high school students (e.g. MSU, UNCO, etc). Being linguistics student myself, I couldn not help but join this endeavour. So this post is, in a sense, not specifically for writers/publishers, but for language users — which is all of us!

We all speak at least one language — in fact, more than half of the world’s population speak two or more languages (Tucker, 1999). Language is so ubiquitous that we can easily take it for granted, but it is also said to be one of the most central characteristics that set us off from other species on this planet. What is so special about human language? Why does it differ greatly from animal “languages”? Three properties make our language distinct from any other animal communication system: productivity, displacement, and arbitrariness.

If you have ever seen a parrot talk, you may have an intuitive objection toward what I have said: parrots can speak our language, and they can pick up new words like children always do; you can even find videos of parrots who have mastered cursing words on YouTube. However, as human beings, we are able to use language in a productive way that animals can not. Take the famous and well-trained parrot Einstein as an example; Einstein was able articulate some English words, but only the ones that he had been taught, and they would always be in the exact same order. Despite the fact that he could say “I love you”, he would never be able to produce “you love me” spontaneously — not even “you love I” which ignores the rule of accusative case in English. What three-year-old children can do with human language is far beyond a parrot’s capacity. Not only can they learn new words, but they can also order words into sentences that they have never articulated before, unveiling the infinite linguistic creativity of human language.

In addition to being productive, human language has another distinctive feature termed “displacement” — the ability to “time-travel” using our language. As a matter of fact, we can even talk about “back to future” scenarios and create new tenses accordingly, as has been done in a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, which demonstrates both productivity and displacement features of human language. We can also talk about the likelihood of an event: the probability of winning that type of lottery is one in six thousand; John may be able to catch the train if he runs faster. In contrast, animal communication is always about “here” and “now”, about the concrete and immediate environment that animals find themselves in. Even the most well-trained apes are not capable of having a conversation about the life of an emperor from ancient China, or discussing the imaginary human colonization on Mars in the future.

Last but not least, the relationship between word and meaning in human language is fundamentally arbitrary, whereas the nature of animal communication is mostly iconic. For example, in the bird community, many calls are highly suited for their own purposes: danger calls that warn of predators express aggression but are difficult to locate so as not to reveal the birds’ location; a flight call, on the other hand, is crisp and easy to locate by other group members, enabling the bird flock to stay together (Dobrovolsky, 2009). In this sense, animal communication is not arbitrary. However, human language is almost never directly related to its meaning, with only a few exceptions of onomatopoeic words. In no way does the sound or form of the word “cat” resemble the furry and adorable mammal with a short snout and retractile claws. If our language lacks arbitrariness, we would probably have referred to that animal as “meow” instead of “cat”. Similarly, the English suffix “-ed” carries no intrinsic meaning of past tense, but it has come to be used in such a way that all competent English speakers can identify its meaning in spite of the arbitrary nature.

Human language differs from other animal communication systems in terms of productivity, displacement, arbitrariness, and it consequently surpasses animal communication in terms of communicative versatility. Our language is what enables us to develop the complex and sophisticated social structure that we have today, and it is what eventually created literature, civilization, and humanity.


Tucker, G. Richard. (1999). A Global Perspective on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Carnegie Mellon University

Dobrovolsky, M. (2009). Chapter 16: Animal Communication. In Archibald, J., & O’Grady, W. (eds.). Contemporary Linguistic Analysis: An Introduction (sixth edition). Pearson Education Canada.

Image Credit: Tom Design & Communications

Why I Heart the Bookternet

“At your average book publisher, 10 years ago was a time before the internet.” Rachel Fershleiser, who now works on Tumblr’s outreach team, helps authors and publishers reach new audiences. Rachel takes us through an evolution from reading and writing as entirely “solitary pursuits” to the development of online tools that enable collaboration and community. She shares great stories and innovations that connect readers and writers like never before, in a publishing industry that is becoming more democratized and accessible.

What has actually happened in the past ten years of publishing, with the emergence of digital community? Are books and the Internet really in opposition to each other? And what will the next ten years of publishing be like, with the technologies that are here to stay and more business models on the rise?

Video Credit: TEDxGowanus

Infographically Explained: Should You Self-Publish or Go Traditional?



The Write Life publishes an infographic to help authors decide whether they should pursue self-publishing or follow the path of traditional publishing.

In a discussion of this infographic, Mutterings of a Fantasy Writer refers to July 2014 Author Earnings Report which reports some statistics about “emerging trends in the world of digital publishing”

One thing that I’ve wanted to point out is that I think there is a general misconception with traditional and self publishers about “getting the book out there.” There is no “out there.” There is only “who is for” and “how is the author cultivating and adding value for readers.” People read and share information based on trust in relationships, and we should bear that in mind when we write/publish a book.

Image Credit: The Write Life

The Life Cycle of A Book



This picture illustrates the (traditional?) publishing process, which involves four major parties and twelve steps. If authors take the self-publishing approach, some steps (e.g. Agent) might be optional; if only e-book version is produced (whether on the author’s own website or under contract with publishing platforms like Amazon), then details of the Distribution step will also alter. In addition, the “Print on Demand” (POD) model is bound to have a great impact on the distribution process.

I personally think that these days it will be necessary to draw a direct link between “Writer” and “Book Buyer”/”Reader”. With online platforms like Goodreads, Amazon, and various blogging sites, writers and readers now can easily engage with each other in the life cycle of a book. Wouldn’t it be a great way to promote book sales if reading becomes more interactive?

Image Credict: International Book Promotion

E-Book Market Review: Guide to 2015


Anita Lovett gives an overview of the e-Book market in 2014 and prepares a guide for the new year. The literary market share of e-books continues to grow, and Forbes reports that e-books “have dominated 30 percent of 2014 book sales”. E-book sales have expanded to more than 45 times larger in the past five years, with people’s willingness to buy e-books “on the rise”. Lovett then highlights 5 major details that authors and publishers should pay attention to, in order to succeed in the e-book market in 2015: book cover design, book description, book reviews, genre identification, and extensive revision and editing.

In addition, Darrick Dean holds a discussion about whether Book Price Wars will be the “publishing battleground” in 2015. Some are concerned with the situation where traditional publishers will lower prices in their competition with indie authors. However, Dean argues that first of all, “there is always competition” regarding book pricing; the key is to connect with audiences “with a strong, quality product.” With traditionally published books going cheaper, the authors earn a lower profit, which is why indie authors still have some advantages. He ends the discussion with a particularly thought-provoking sentence: “There’s room for all publishing models, but we are seeing a settling of which is good for whom.”

Image Credit: Anita Lovett & Associates

Publishing in China: New Trends

George Lossius, CEO of Publishing Technology Plc., provides an overview of publishing in China, which is the fastest growing publishing market in the world. In this video, he answers two main questions: How is Chinese publishing different (from the West)? What’s next for Chinese publishing? Speaking from a particular perspective of academic publishing, Lossius offers several predictions about the future development of publishing in China.

Video Credit: Publishing Technology