Monday, November 30, 2015




By Gaston Dorren

Published by Grove Press,  Dec 1st 2015

Don't be put off by the slightly slow start as it initially deals with the necessary evil of explaining the chain of language descent from the straightforward Finno-Ugric and the much more complex  Proto-Indo-European; it does not take long before the fun really begins!

This is a truly fascinating look at a variety of aspects of sixty different European languages. The languages with only a tiny number of speakers and/or a relatively circumscribed geographical area of incidence such as Cornish, the Channel Isles Norman, Monegasque and Icelandic  are given equal coverage with languages such as German, French and Spanish. The internationally used invented language of Esperanto is included, as is coverage of the many varieties of sign language.

I was naturally delighted to see the chapter on Welsh,  and was pleased to see that my schooldays instruction in Welsh had obviously taken some root as I had no difficulty in deciphering the three varieties of mutations which flummox Welsh beginners when trying to consult a dictionary. The chapter outlining the problems faced by speakers of languages which not only have words to describe numbers but specific words when dealing with mathematics involving numbers did leave me feeling both dazed and confused. I simply cannot imagine having to calculate sums in Breton when counting is based on 20s and the number 77 is  seventeen-and-three-twenty. Maths in English is far simpler, mercifully.

Alphabets, dialects, rivalries, the structure and grammar of languages, linguistic conventions and word-borrowing are all featured and the long-term use of "minority" languages is discussed, as is the sad death of some languages.

Absorbing, entertaining, saddening yet hopeful, Lingo shows us just how we manage to communicate with other people across Europe despite our many different languages and their individual dialects too.

This is a WONDERFUL book.

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