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Esben Alfort (Copenhagen, Denmark)

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Otto Dempwolff's Grammar of the Jabem Language in New Guinea (Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication)
Otto Dempwolff's Grammar of the Jabem Language in New Guinea (Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication)
by Otto Dempwolff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent translation of a thorough grammar of an exotic language, 19 July 2007
This is an excellent translation of a very good and thorough grammar of JabÍm, which is an important language spoken around the Huon Gulf in Papua New Guinea.

The original work by Otto Dempwolff is characterised by his efforts to explain the workings of this exotic language to Europeans. He achieves this through providing a notional framework every time he introduces a new formal category.
Both phonology, morphology and syntax are covered, and everything is amply exemplified.

The translators Joel Bradshaw and Francisc Czobor have done a very good job with the translation and updating of the grammar. They have also added many clarifying footnotes. These are of four types:
1) apparent errors in Dempwolffs manuscript,
2) misconceptions of Dempwolff's,
3) updating of data - the language has changed since the original publication in 1939,
4) comparative historical data.

Nhanda: An Aboriginal Language of Western Australia (Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications)
Nhanda: An Aboriginal Language of Western Australia (Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications)
by Juliette Blevins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thorough descripition of a language on the verge of extinction, 19 July 2007
Nhanda is an aboriginal language of Western Australia, once spoken along the coast from Geraldton north to Murchison River. When this book was published, it was one of the least studied languages of Western Australia, and spoken by no more than a handful of people.

Nhanda is in many ways unique among languages of this area:

1) It has undergone initial consonant loss, which is otherwise found in central and eastern Australia only
2) It has a voicing contrast in obstruents, which is otherwise practically unknown in Western Australia
3) It has only one rhotic phoneme /r/, in stead of the usual two (r and rr)
4) It has a distinctive glottal stop phoneme /'/

5) It has a tripartite system of bound pronominals (subject, objects and obliques)
6) It has separate verb conjugations for unaccusatives and unergatives
7) Intransitive subjects (S), transitive subjects (A) and objects (O) all have distinct case markers

Despite having worked with one of the very last speakers, Julie Blevins delivers a thorough description of the language with in-depth analyses of every aspect. She covers both phonology (including historical phonology), morphology, and syntax. Everything is amply exemplified and the standard is very high throughout.

Teach Yourself IGBO!: Getting to Grips with Learning to Speak IGBO Language
Teach Yourself IGBO!: Getting to Grips with Learning to Speak IGBO Language
by Samuel Chukwuma Odiaka
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cute but not very helpful, 19 July 2007
Igbo (or Ibo) is a Kwa language spoken in southern Nigeria by about 15 million people.

Do not let the title mislead you into thinking that this book is part of the Teach Yourself series - it could hardly be further from it. This printed e-book is a light-hearted introduction to Sam's language (Sam Odiaka is the author. He will personally send you the book with a thankful letter entitled "Dear Friend" and carrying his signature). It is intended for the beginner, but may in fact discourage many readers, even though Sam's intention is the exact opposite. It is written in a variety of English which is far from standard, but rather cosy and cute - you will find yourself smiling several times on each page, which is in fact Sam's intention (Let me cite from the introduction: "It is intended to be Fun! Enjoyable! Happiness and Laughter with friends and family, sometimes with colleagues at work - "you teaching friends about Igbo language" with smile :-) on your face." - you get the general style...)
It will teach you useful words and expressions, and even grammar, though only covertly - not a single rule of grammar is stated, but enough examples are provided for you to make your own rules.

In short, it is a rather unstructured course, but you will certainly learn something from it if you take your time.

The book ends with a set of regulations on Igbo marriages, funerals and festivals, which seem totally out of place in a course book like this.

My impression is, that Sam wishes to help preserve Igbo culture, and has done his best to contribute to this. However, a skilled editor of language courses would have done miracles to a raw text like this.

A final word of caution: The book is intended for Nigerians who wish to understand Igbo, and the reader is assumed to be able to ask his friends about words he does not understand - or as Sam puts it: "Sometimes a reader may come across a simple word or sentence and fails to understand it, he then should refers to somebody who understand Igbo better to give him the correct meaning. The Author may design it to test the mentality of his or her reader." - What a malicious author... Have fun! ;-)

Beginner's Shona (Chishona) (Hippocrene Beginner's Series)
Beginner's Shona (Chishona) (Hippocrene Beginner's Series)
by Aquilina Mawadza
Edition: Paperback

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid language course with a thorough introduction to the culture, 19 July 2007
Shona is the native language of 80 percent of the population of Zimbabwe. Like most African languages south of Sahara it is a Bantu language.

This book is a solid language course, which - unlike many other language courses - is not afraid of teaching you grammar systematically. If you have not studied a Bantu language before, it may be quite a mouthful, but it would be impossible to learn the language without it. Each section contains a dialogue, grammar and exercises. The dialogues are of a reasonable length and difficulty, and are provided with a translation and vocabulary.

This book stands out because of its unusually thorough introduction to Zimbabwean culture, covering the following topics in a 15 p. introduction:

Geography, climate, and population
Arts and culture
Entertainment, music, and sports
Everyday Life: Forms of address, Customs and Courtesies, City transportation, Driving, Car Rentals, and Traffic Rules, Currency, Shopping, Festivals, Time, Communications, Media, Toilets/Restrooms, Electricity, Food and Drink, Health

I have come across no other language course in any language, which goes to such lengths to introduce the reader to aspects of life in the country in question.

Good luck learning to speak Shona, and how to be a Zimbabwean...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2012 9:29 PM BST

Mende for Beginners: Mende Yia Gaa Latoo Gclei
Mende for Beginners: Mende Yia Gaa Latoo Gclei
by Frederick K. Bayon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.71

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pronunciation practice - mostly for Mende speakers, 19 July 2007
This book is the first in a series intended to teach the Mende language of Sierra Leone. It is written for the absolute beginner and also for Mende-speaking individuals wishing to learn how to read and write Mende. It is clearly most successful at attaining the latter goal.

The Mende project is an important undertaking, aiming to help preserve the Mende language through providing teaching materials and encouraging families to teach their children Mende (in stead of only speaking the local variety of pidgin English). This first book does not treat grammar, since the focus is on speaking the language. This is a good approach for people living among Mende-speaking people, but not very helpful for foreign learners.

This is not so much a language book as a transcript of the accompanying tape. It is a collection of isolated words, random sentences, and a couple of conversations intended for the reader to practice his/her pronunciation. Without the tape, it is rather useless, but with it, it may be OK for pronunciation practice. Ironically, the tape seemed not to be available yet, though the publishers promise (2004) that it will be so in the near future. The book does not teach you a single rule of grammar, which means that you will not, in fact, learn the language from this book.

Every single sound, word, and sentence in the book is represented threefold like this:

English: Put the medicine on my toe.
Mende: Halei wu nya gowoi ma.
Repeat: Halei wu nya gowoi ma.
Student: -

This didactic notation quickly becomes rather annoying and makes for a lot of pages (108) with very little content.


1 Pronunciation
2 Common expressions
3 Counting
4 Days of the week
5 Months and seasons of the year
6 Our body
7 In our house
8 Conversation 1
9 Conversation 2

In short, this is not a book from which to learn the Mende language. It is, however, the first step towards a series of didactic publications on Mende, which will hopefully achieve their goal. As a linguist, I am delighted to see such publications appear, even though this one did not help me very much.

Languages of Asia and the Pacific
Languages of Asia and the Pacific
by Charles Hamblin
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A traveller's guide to 25 spoken languages, 28 Nov 2004
This is no linguistic description of the languages of Asia and the Pacific. It is a handbook for the traveller comprising a pronunciation guide, a short grammar section and everyday phrases, numerals, days of the week, months, many useful sentences and vocabulary lists for the following languages which you are likely to meet on your travels in Asia and the Pacific: Persian, Hindi/Urdu, Bengali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Burmese, Thai, Lao, Kampuchean, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Japanese, Korean, Malay/Indonesian, Tagalog, Spanish, Portuguese, French, New Guinea Pidgin, Fijian, Tongan, Samoan and Tahitian.

You won't LEARN any of the languages by reading this book, but you will be able to communicate on a basic level.
For those languages that do not normally use the Latin alphabet, the local scripts are nowhere used, except in a short appendix on public signs that you are likely to encounter. This means that you won't be able to read or write most of the languages.
The pronunciation guide is quite cursory and the transcription is based on English pronunciation throughout, rather than any phonetic alphabet, which I find quite frustrating, but maybe that is just because I am no Englishman... There is a great plus though, which is that this book - unlike many language courses dealing with tone languages - actually treats the lexical tones which many of the languages use to distinguish words.
Unfortunately, I have discovered several errors and/or misprints in the book, but that is what you can expect from a book treating so many languages, written by one author. Nobody can possibly know all the details of so many languages personally.

In sum, this book is a reasonably good traveller's guide, as traveller's guides go (especially ones that cover so many languages), but do not expect to actually learn a language by reading it.

Xhosa (Teach Yourself Languages)
Xhosa (Teach Yourself Languages)
by Beverley Kirsch
Edition: Audio Cassette

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent language course with interesting texts, 28 Nov 2004
This is another excellent language course from Teach Yourself. If you would like to learn how to speak, read and write this fascinating language then I can highly recommend this book. You cannot possibly learn a Bantu language without being taught a good deal of grammar, and this book treats that subject in a clear and precise way. The texts are interesting enough to make you want to read on, and are accompanied by interesting facts and photographs from real life.
Xhosa is one of South Africa's 11 official languages. Together with the closely related Zulu it is the most widely spoken native language of South Africa. It was also the language of President Mandela.
Like most languages south of the Sahara it is a Bantu language, which means (inter alia) that it has 15 noun classes and uses lexical tone to distinguish words.
Xhosa, and to a lesser degree Zulu, has borrowed some of the 'click sounds' that are characteristic of the neighbouring but unrelated Khoisan languages. These sounds are difficult to master, and in some cases even difficult for the non-native to distinguish (even if you are a linguist as I am), but they are very fascinating and make the languages that possess them highly expressive.
It is important to have the tape if you want to learn how to speak Xhosa. Especially as the book will only in a very few cases tell you which tones to use. This is the only serious flaw, but it should be remembered, that most language courses that deal with tone languages actually skip tone information in the books, so that is the standard way of doing it. I therefore give this book (with the tape!) 5 stars in spite of the lacking tonal information.

Colloquial Persian: The Complete Course for Beginners (PB + CD)
Colloquial Persian: The Complete Course for Beginners (PB + CD)
by Abdorreza Rafiee
Edition: Paperback

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good language course, 12 Dec 2003
This is a good language course, and it contains a very helpful guide to the persian variant of the arabic script, which is easy to use and makes it a lot easier to learn to read and write persian.

The Papuan Languages of New Guinea (Cambridge Language Surveys)
The Papuan Languages of New Guinea (Cambridge Language Surveys)
by William A. Foley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £31.97

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of a complex field, 12 Dec 2003
This book provides the linguist with a good overview of the world's most complex linguistic area. It is detailed in comparison to the large amount of languages covered. It covers a great many aspects of interest to the linguist, and it is very interesting reading both for the typologist, the historical linguist, and people interested in morphology, morphophonology, semantics and so on.

The Languages of the World
The Languages of the World
by Kenneth Katzner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £36.21

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Extremely superficial guide to some writing systems, 11 Nov 2003
This book ought to have a different name, as it doesn't actually tell you much about the languages, but rather about which letters do and do not exist in each language, which is rather irrelevant information. For a linguist, the text is nearly completely useless. The one good thing to say about this work is that it supplies examples from a lot of languages, something which is otherwise hard to find in one or few books. It would be extremely more useful for me as a linguist if there was a translitteration and if possible a quasi-translation under each line of the texts, as a text written in an asian script you have never heard of gives you nothing more than a superficial impression of how it looks - it certainly has nothing to do with the language that it is used to write.

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