on 15 April 2013
Let me begin by saying that I have read the book from cover to cover, enjoyed it and learnt from it. The question must be about its reliability.
Let me begin with a few simple errors that should have been caught with proper editing or proof reading:
* Page 9: Example 1.3 - "Gestern las ich dieses Buch" translates from German as `I read THIS book yesterday', but in the book it is translated as `I read THE book yesterday'.
* Page 14: Table 2.1 - In "James Parsons' list of cognate numerals" the Persian for numbers one and six is given as "yak" and "shash". In ten years living in Iran I never heard any pronunciation other than 'yek' and 'sheesh'. Nor are these the original spellings used by James Parsons; those were "Yeck" and "Shesh".
* Page 15: Table 2.2 - In Turkish some of the diacritical marks are missing, thus numbers three, five and six should read 'üç', 'beþ' and 'altý', not "üc", "bes" and "alti". (Set View\Encoding to Turkish to see the correct readings/diacritical marks.)
* Page 50: Example 3.3 - In Latin 'senator' is a third declension noun, thus the accusative is 'senatorEm', not "senatorUm" as in the example.
More serious is the note on page 45 talking about case marking where it is stated that "English <...> has no cases for nouns". Surely the genitive '-s' is an example of case marking in English.
When it comes to some of the stranger features of languages (strange that is from an English speaker's experience) I found the description of the ergative system (pages 51/52) both helpful and clear - I had previously had only a rather hazy idea as to how it worked.
But for topic marking (pages 153 - 155) I am left, if anything, more confused than ever. The examples are based on the theme that 'the girl washes the clothes with the soap' in Malagasy. The first two alternatives (8.8 and 8.9) make perfect sense but the third (8.10) is translated as "The soap was washed (with) the clothes by the girl". If that is correct, the example is bad or at the very least inappropriate - one does not usually use clothes to wash soap. However, based on my reading of the text, it seems that the example is effectively trying to say that 'the soap was used by the girl to wash the clothes', with emphasis on the soap as the "circumstantial participant" or instrument for washing the clothes. Even if I had a Malagasy speaking friend who could clarify the situation, it does call into question the quality of the description of this feature and the translation of the example.
Finally there are a number of asides, not directly relevant to the topic of languages, that are just plain wrong:
* Page 31: The province of Dacia is described as "the former easternmost outpost of the Roman empire". Whatever happened to Asia Minor?
* Page 46: Khanty-Mansiysk is described as a centre for alpine skiing. Khanty-Mansiysk is in Western Siberia and flat as the proverbial pancake. There are no hills to speak of for miles around so that alpine skiing is out and, whilst 'langlauf' might be possible, at -30°C and colder, you would hardly go there to do that.
* Page 156: Note 9 repeats the hoary old myth about the Coriolis effect that "when you unplug a bathtub, water spins in one direction or the other depending on whether you are north or south of the equator". The configuration of taps and drains has far more influence than the Coriolis effect on how the water spins when you unplug the bathtub.
These are a lot of little things, but it does make one wonder how much else is incomplete, misleading or just plain wrong. My recommendation would be to read the book for the fun of the subject, if you want, but do not rely on it or quote it without external confirmation of the facts.
on 23 February 2012
The author quotes the following as the words of Matthew Arnold: "The Welsh language is the curse of Wales. Its prevalence, and the ignorance of English have excluded, and even now exclude the Welsh people from the civilisation of their English neighbours. An Eisteddfod is one of the most mischievous and selfish pieces of sentimentalism which could possibly be perpetrated. It is simply a foolish interference with the natural progress of civilisation and prosperity. If it is desirable that the Welsh should talk English, it is monstrous folly to encourage them in a loving fondness for their old language."
According to multiple other sources on Google books, Matthew Arnold did not write this in The Times, rather, it was a response to what Matthew Arnold wrote in The Times.
It makes me dubious about the quality of the scholarship in the rest of the book.
No, it's an easy mistake to make, I suppose. If you're a senior lecturer in linguistics at a premier American university.
on 11 April 2015
This book is interesting as raw data, as most probably it is more about Russian expansionism than about languages. From what I have skimmed so far, the author prefers to be rather dogmatic and doesn't go into details. Lithuanian for example is a BaltoSlavic language for her. Even Lithuanians who went to a Soviet school would be surprised that they are BaltoSlavs. In those days of the Soviet Union it did not matter; now Putin wants to be related before attacking. Be it Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Chechnya etc. You may want to say that science is somehow above politics, but any black person will tell you how a white police officer is different from a black police officer. Both of them are supposed to be above racial prejudice. Representing Reality, Bill Nichols or Revision Express: Media Studies: "... A media text is made by a particular media institution and this will also affect the way that it is constructed and the meaning it communicates..." The author prefers to see her own identity in Russian, and she writes in Russian mostly. The book meanwhile comes from Cambridge University, from another country with a rich history of genocide who routinely accuse their victims of nationalism. Welsh Not. This is what Winston Churchill had to say about the Bengal Famine that killed millions of people: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits”.