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The Language of Food

A Linguist Reads the Menu

Dan Jurafsky (Author, Stanford University)

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2015 James Beard Award Nominee: Writing and Literature category

Stanford University linguist and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky dives into the hidden history of food.

Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?

In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist.

Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like "rich" and "crispy," zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips.

The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky's insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world.

From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers.

Engaging and informed, Jurafsky's unique study illuminates an extraordinary network of language, history, and food. The menu is yours to enjoy.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • September 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24083-2
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 272 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverThe Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu

    Paperback

Endorsements & Reviews

“A model of rigor and readability… weave[s] together the journey food makes through culture with the journey its name makes through language.” — Peter Sokolowski, New York Times Book Review

“Writing with knowledge and wit, Dan Jurafsky shows that the language of food reflects our desires and aspirations, whether it’s on a fancy French menu or a bag of potato chips.” — Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

“Delightful. The distinguished linguist Dan Jurafsky brings a battery of skills to reveal the far-flung links of many of our dishes, to reveal how potato chip advertisements work, and to give an insider’s guide to reading menus. I couldn’t put this book down.” — Rachel Laudan, author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History

“Fresh and insightful… The complexities of language, intertwined with the endless combinations of ingredients and the rich history of eating, make for a rich and rewarding read.” — Matthew Tiffany, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Stanford linguist Dan Jurafsky doesn’t just explain the origins of the word for the red sauce we slather on ‘French’ fries; he uses the global ketchup trade as evidence for a new understanding of global economic history.” — Ruth Walker, Christian Science Monitor

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