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on 4 December 2002
This is a good book, not a great book. It gives a lot of general information about a lot of languages, which is really nice. A table at the beginning provides a good, quick reference to the world's languages' "family tree". Following this, the first part of the book discusses the various language families, with more detail about languages in the Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic branches. The second part, covering about 200 individual languages, is really what the book is all about. This section is organized by place rather than language family, so the first section is "Languages of Europe" and the other sections are for the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, the Western Hemisphere, and Africa. There is also one more thrown in for good measure: "An artificial language", which discusses Esperanto. This organization is perhaps a bit odd from a linguist's perspective, but it does work very well for browsing (which is really what this book is geared towards). Fortunately, if you are looking for information on a specific language, there is an index of all the languages mentioned in the book. For each language there is a sample of the its script and a short description, usually identifying where it is spoken, how many speakers, relations to other languages and so on. The length and quality of these descriptions vary. Finally, the third part of the book is a country-by-country survey, arranged in alphabetical order. This gives each country's total population, languages spoken, and the number of speakers of those languages.
Now, although this all sounds really good (and it is), there are major weaknesses in the book. This comes primarily from the fact that the author has obviously got his information from countless different sources, as no one person can be an expert in all languages. However, it makes the book hard to trust. For instance, because I know a bit about Celtic languages, I looked them up here. The author refers to Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic simply as "Gaelic", implying that they are the same language but simply called different things in Scotland and Ireland. This is simply not the case. Furthermore, he states that there 100,000 speakers of Irish in Northern Ireland. Again, I know that this is at best a misleading figure. Irish is dead in Northern Ireland as native language, and there are not even that many speakers in the Republic of Ireland. Presumably this number comes from figures relating to the number of people who have done Irish at school, or who otherwise "have a little Irish". All of this makes me question everything else I read in the book.
In short, this book is nice for getting an overview of many languages. I don't regret buying it, but I was disappointed. If you want a quick reference to the world's many languages, this is it. But only use it for browsing, not as a reference, and realize that it only mentions 600 languages--about 1/10th of the world's languages.
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on 15 October 2016
MY best though primer for the most important langs in the planet their history and .their writing script. Very handy reference. MY edition is of 80s
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on 11 November 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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on 15 April 2016
Irritating as the examples are in a range of forms of writing with no consistent transliteration into International Phonetics. It's therefore very difficult to figure out what each language sounds like unless it's in the Roman alphabet. I struggle with anything other than Roman or Greek.
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on 6 October 2003
I really enjoyed reading this book. The problem that the author faces is that each of us would probably have chosen a different selection of languages according to our own personal identity and interests. I found languages which I had never before come across such as Chukchi in Siberia. I like the way the book gives an example of the written language, a translation and then goes on to write about the main chosen languages. Many more are mentioned, and there is a nice table of language families, which acts as a very nice and accurate reference for amateur linguists like myself. As a bilingual speaker of Scottish Gaelic (and of course English), I would have liked to see more on our fascinating language, not least because our language is going through a crucial phase, with the number of speakers dangerously low, but the development in recent years of schooling through the language and an iminent bill set to go through the Scottish Parliament giving Scottish Gaelic for the first time ever secure status. Maybe there would be an interest for such a book as this to be written on a selection of minority languages for more general reading. Joshua Shipman has written excellent books on the subject of minority languages in terms of expert analysis. In short, I would recommend this book, Languages of the World as an interesting overview of languages of the world. I was delighted to see the inclusion of such languages as Bushman, Aranda and Tok Pigin. It would be better if all the scripts had been transliterated underneath into roman script.
Mar sin, chòrd an leabhar seo rium math dha-rìribh. Ged a tha beàrnan an a thaobh Gàidhlig, bha mi air leth toilichte cànanan fhaicinn mar Bhreatonais, Bascais agus cànanan tùsanach bho cheann a tuath Amaireaga, Afraca agus Àisia. Mholainn gu pearsanta gun ceannaich sibh e! Tha aon leasachadh a mholainn ged-tà airson an leabhair, gum biodh e nas fheàrr nan robh a h-uile sìon air a sgrìobhadh anns an aibidil laideann a bharrachd air an sgriopt aca fhèin.
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on 3 October 2003
I thought that this book gave a very good introduction to the amateur linguist like myself to the better known and some of the lesser known languages of the world. I also enjoyed looking at the scripts of the different languages. So to anyone with a passion for languages I would recommend this book. It is my belief that had we each been asked to write such a book on a given number of languages that we could come up with a different selection according to our own identity and interests.
Coming from the perspective of a speaker of Scottish Gaelic, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed in the way our language was put as a subscript after Irish. Whereas it is certainly true that we are trying to strengthen links between us, it would be inaccurate in any way to portray that Scottish Gaelic is a mere dialect of Irish, for despite being a fluent speaker of Scottish Gaelic, I struggle to understand the beautiful Irish language.
I enjoy greatly reading about such languages as Chukchi and Tok Pijin, which leave me fascinated when I browse through the book. In these days of globalisation it is important to maintain and indeed strengthen our self-identity, and language is possibly the greatest scense of self-identity that we behold. To learn about others is a great interest of mine, and this book has provided enjoyable reading.
(Summary in Scottish Gaelic:)
Mar sin, chòrd an leabhar seo rium gu mòr agus ma tha ùidh agad air cànanan, mholainn gun ceannaich sibh e. Tha e a' sealltainn eisimpleir den cànan air a sgrìobhadh còmhla ri eadar-theangachadh aig a' bhonn agus an uair sin, beagan gearr-chunntas air eachdraidh agus coir a' chànain.
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on 16 June 2015
Great
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