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Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages by…
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Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages (2014)

by Gaston Dorren

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Excellent and fun look at European languages. We learnt all sorts of things about how different languages work that I wish I could now remember. I do now know why Scottish mountains are so difficult to pronounce and wonder if anyone can get it right. This is a well written (as you would expect) and engaging book covering all sorts of European languages. ( )
  Tifi | Nov 3, 2017 |
De-accessioned and bookcrossed July 2017

(29 December 2015)

Purporting to be a romp (OK, an “intriguing tour”) through the main and minor languages of Europe, this translated book is a bit of an oddity. It’s often simultaneously two detailed and not detailed enough, going into linguistic subtleties but then laughing at linguists, and then skating across whole languages and only giving them a paragraph at the end of their own chapter.

Then there were some big problems. It made a little more sense when I realised on reading the Acknowledgements that the author is Dutch and the book has been translated, because it’s a well-known fact that humour is practically untranslatable, but the chapter on Belarus(s)ian, made up of two invented addresses from the different sides of the dispute about which form of the language to adopt seemed in very poor taste, inflammatory and at best misguided. This was followed by a chapter on Luxembourgish written in the form of a fable, which was confusing and never actually explained which languages the author was talking about. Then there was a section later very carefully explaining how to read the Cyrillic alphabet based on the Greek, which even I, someone who likes an alphabet, skimmed.

There were good bits, and a nice pairing of a loan word plus a not-directly-translatable word that would be useful to have in English at the end of this chapter, but this was a bit patchy and in places downright uncomfortable.
  LyzzyBee | Jul 22, 2017 |
This book gives in one short volume a brief description of languages in Europe. It was interesting and fun to read. I enjoyed Dorren’s humor. The chapter on Bielorussian was hilarious, although, I wonder what Bielorussian speakers will think of it. I also wonder whether Esperanto speakers, in general, will be amused by his entry for “Esperinto” or accept his claim that Esperanto is not easier than other languages. Whichever it may be, I wish he had written a little about the history of Esperanto and its community of speakers. He does believe, however, that Esperanto could indeed serve as an international tool as well as any other language (even Estonian, for example). At any rate, he thinks Chinese will probably be the next language of choice for many. All in all, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to readers interested in languages. ( )
  Carlelis | Jun 20, 2016 |
Unlike many "linquistics for laypeople" books, this one successfully bridges the divide between hardcore language geeks and people who are just a bit curious, and it does so all while being incredibly witty, entertaining, and accessible. ( )
  jellyfishjones | Apr 27, 2016 |
In sixty brief chapters, Gaston Dorren's Lingo takes readers on a whirlwind tour of European languages, from the "big five" Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian), to more obscure tongues such as Slovene, Manx, and Gagauz.

The book is intended to be breezy, anecdotal and entertaining. Some chapters, such as the one on the extinction of the Dalmatian language, shine, but others fall flat. For example, the chapter on Ossetian, the so-called "tenth branch" on the Indo-European language family tree, is a mere four paragraphs long and gives readers very little idea what the language is like.

Moreover, in the chapter comparing English and Chinese, Dorren sets up a straw man argument that English became a world language because it is "simpler" than languages with gendered nouns, declensions, and mutations (a component of Welsh). Even though it lacks these features, English, with its weird spelling and pronunciation, is by no means simple, and I don't think anyone out there thinks English became an international language because of its own characteristics.

If you enjoy reading about languages, you may find this book worth picking up. Just don't expect too much from it. ( )
2 vote akblanchard | Feb 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Are some languages worse than others? The question might sound silly, but in this entertaining exercise in "language tourism" (the book's original Dutch title), the author isn't frightened of making judgments. He thinks lenition – the habit in Welsh of "changing a word's first letter for no apparent reason" – is just "mindboggling", and generally that "Gaelic spelling is flawed … wasteful, arcane and outdated". The "ludicrous" variety of cases in Slovak amounts to "chaos", while Breton's system of naming numbers makes mental arithmetic unnecessarily difficult.

In the author's native Dutch, the gendering of nouns is changing in what he calls "a blatant act of linguistic sexism". (Everything that is not obviously a female living thing is a "he".) Nor will Anglophone readers of this edition feel smug after Dorren's excellent dissection of the illogicality of English, with its 20 different vowel sounds, impossible spelling and idiosyncratic formations. (Very reasonably, Dorren wonders: "Why does English say 'I want you to listen' rather than the more straightforward 'I want that you listen'?")
added by Cynfelyn | editGuardian, Steven Poole (Nov 28, 2014)
 
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Epigraph
"Two languages in one head? No one can live at that speed! Good Lord, man, you're asking the impossible." " But the Dutch speak four languages and they smoke marijuana." "Yes, but that's cheating." —Eddie Izzard 'Dress to Kill'
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The attitude of English speakers to foreign languages can be summed up thus: let's plunder, not learn them.
Once upon a time, thousands of years ago (nobody knows quite when), in a faraway land (nobody knows quite where), there was a language that no one speaks today and whose name has been forgotten, if it ever had one.
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Book description
Surprising, witty and full of extraordinary tales, LINGO will change the way you think about the languages spoken around you. LINGO takes us on an intriguing tour of fifty-odd European languages and dialects, from the life of PIE (our common ancestor) to the rise and rise of English, via the complexities of Welsh plurals and puzzling Czech accents. Along the way it explains the baffling ways of Basque, unlocks Ukrainian's enviable grammar and provides a crash course in alphabets. We learn why Esperanto could never catch on, how the language of William the Conqueror lives on in the Channel Islands, and consider if English is like Chinese.
LINGO also looks at words that English has loaned from across the continent, and those we really should import, like the Norwegian 'utepils' (lager enjoyed out of doors), the Germans' 'goennen' (the opposite of envy) or the frisian 'tafalle' (to turn out better than expected.)
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"Spins the reader on a whirlwind tour of sixty European languages and dialects, sharing quirky moments from their histories and exploring their commonalities and differences ... [and taking] us into today's remote mountain villages of Switzerland, where Romansh is still the lingua franca, to formerly Soviet Belarus, a country whose language was Russified by the Bolsheviks, to Sweden, where up until the 1960s polite speaking conventions required that one never use the word 'you' in conversation"--Amazon.com.… (more)

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