Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing

First published in 2017

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Publisher's summary (UK)

A mind-expanding, deeply humane tour of language by the bestselling author of Born on a Blue Day and Thinking in Numbers.

Is vocabulary destiny? Why do clocks "talk" to the Nahua people of Mexico? Will A.I. researchers ever produce true human-machine dialogue? In this mesmerizing collection of essays, Daniel Tammet answers these and many other questions about the intricacy and profound power of language.

In Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing, Tammet goes back in time to London to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; in Iceland, he learns why the name Blær became a court case; in Canada, he meets one of the world's most accomplished lip readers. He chats with chatbots; contrives an "e"-less essay on lipograms; studies the grammar of the telephone; contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects; and corresponds with native Esperanto speakers - in their mother tongue.

A joyous romp through the world of words, letters, stories, and meanings, Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing explores the way communication shapes reality. From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, these essays display the stunning range of Tammet's literary and polyglot talents.


UK, USA, France.


"In terms of literary genres, something new and enthralling is going on inside his books ... the wonderful Australian poet Les Murray is likewise on the spectrum, and the antic brilliancies of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books may be the refracted glintings of an autistic imagination. But such kinship in no way diminishes the bold and original solitariness of Tammet's forays and ambition." -- Brad Leithauser, Wall St Journal, 6/10/17

"Like Oliver Sacks' compendium of rare neurological anomalies, Tammet's intriguing cases of linguistic idiosyncrasies expand our notions on what it means to be human. He gives insight ranging from cultural perception and social dominance, to the features of Esperanto as a universal language. Most fascinating is Tammet's own astonishing linguistic mind, in which a single word evokes fully textured experiences--an innate ability that would dazzle any storyteller in love with words and their deepest meanings." -- Amy Tan

"[An] insightful collection of 15 essays that explore language and its underappreciated nuances… Tammet is generous in his acceptance of many different forms and styles of communication. His essays will be eye-openers for anyone who takes the meaning of words on the printed page for granted." -- Publishers Weekly

"A bestselling writer with an eye for the detail that separates good authors from bad ... Tammet’s encounters with those on the linguistic margins conveys the idea that language is the cornerstone of human societies ... [Tammet] has gone from being a person with autism who writes, to a writer with autistic roots ... Every Word is A Bird We Teach to Sing is a journey through labyrinths of language and the oddities of those who speak it — all of us, in other words. It is not a book about the idiosyncrasies of autism. It is a book about the idiosyncrasies of humanity." -- Adam Sage, The Times, 17/08/17

"This whirlwind narrative mirrors the author's polyglot talents. The chapter on the Icelandic language is especially compelling as Tammet demonstrates how it became an essential political tool as nationalists sought their independence from Denmark ... VERDICT Those interested in language, words, meaning, and sociolinguistics will find this slim volume to be a transforming read. General readers will also find this highly readable work engaging." -- Library Journal, August 2017

"There are many moments of delightful and surprising luminescence ... ‘Words, words, words,’ said Hamlet—that brilliant, verbose Dane would find in these pages a most welcome elaboration." -- Kirkus

"Full of charm and fascination ... a veritable verbal treasure house." -- Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

"A fascinating journey through language and some of its many varied forms and uses." -- Booklist starred review, Sep. 2017