Books

Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
NEW!

Babel

by Gaston Dorren

From the celebrated author of Lingo, a whistle-stop tour of the world’s twenty most-spoken languages, exploring history, geography, linguistics, and culture, and showing how the language we speak goes a long way to determining our world

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date December 04, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2879-9
  • Dimensions 5.30" x 8.50"
  • US List Price $25.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date December 04, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4672-4
  • US List Price $0.00

English is the world language, except that most of the world doesn’t speak it—only one in five people does. Dorren calculates that to speak fluently with half of the world’s 7.4 billion people, you would need to know no fewer than twenty languages. He investigates these top twenty world languages, which range from the familiar (French, Spanish) to the surprising (Malay, Tamil, Bengali). Babel whisks the reader on a delightful journey to every continent of the world, tracing how these world languages rose to greatness while others fell away, and showing how speakers today handle the foibles of their mother tongues. From tongue-tying phonetics to elegant but confusing writing scripts, and mind-bending quirks of grammar, Babel is a testament to the idea of Charlemagne’s that “to speak another language is to possess another soul.”

Among many other things, Babel will teach you why Russian has no word for blue, how and why Turkish stopped borrowing words from other languages, and why Arabic might be the hardest language to learn. Dorren forecasts the future of Chinese script, re-examines the Latin alphabet’s gory past, and explains why you have to be very careful not to offend someone when speaking Javanese, which offers a choice of five different registers or khrong for most words in the language, depending on the social class of the person being addressed. Not a language for the faint-hearted. Witty, fascinating and utterly compelling, and a lot easier than learning twenty languages, Babel will change the way you look at the world and how it speaks.

Praise:

“The multilingual Dorren, who scored with Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, goes global with this study of language, culture, geography, and history. Some surprising facts: presumed lingua franca English is actually spoken by only one in five people worldwide, more people speak Malay than French, and Turkish has evolved so quickly in the last century that titles from the early 1900s are Greek to today’s speakers.”—Library Journal (PrePub Alert)

Praise for Lingo:

“[Dorren’s] deep and broad expertise allows him to take a familiar, mostly bemused approach to the linguistic patchwork of Europe . . . as enlightening as it is entertaining.”—Boston Globe

“A wonderful read . . . [Dorren’s] lively and insightful book takes the reader on a linguistic tour of Europe. In 60 witty, bite-sized chapters, Dorren makes sense of the babel of voices, exploring the origins of the continent’s languages and dialects and highlighting the surprise commonalities, stark differences and quirky singularities . . . Practically every page comes studded with at least one fascinating fact . . . illuminating and entertaining . . . [A] unique, page-turning book”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Mr. Dorren’s language tourism takes in not just the familiar monuments of English, French, Spanish, and German but also the unsung marvels of Latvian, Cornish, and Luxembourgish . . . A brisk and breezy tour . . . Bulge[s] with linguistic trivia . . . [Dorren] has an eye for genuinely surprising detail . . . [His] book is a peppy advertisement for the rewards of having several languages in one’s head.”—Wall Street Journal

“[A] playful survey of sixty languages spoken in Europe . . . Dorren gives voice to an important linguistic truth: ‘Today’s errors tend to become tomorrow’s correct usage.’”—New Yorker

Lingo features amusing tales from five dozen languages, languages that define the nations of Europe . . . a great example of how language helps us get a little insight into the many cultures of Europe.”—Rick Steves, Travel with Rick Steves

“A worldly delight . . . This language writer dazzles. His stylistic flair is more than just entertaining—it crystallizes abstract ideas he conveys through vivid imagery . . . Dorren approaches his subject with passion and humour. His chapters are diverse, each normally highlighting the peculiarities of a single language . . . Dorren’s pace is swift . . . For language tourists, Lingo is a tour de force.”—Winnipeg Free Press

“[Dorren’s] linguistic tour is fascinating, funny, surprising, and enlightening.”—Jane Ciabattari, BBC Culture (10 Books to Read in December)

“This linguistic-led trip of the tongues across Europe doles out bite-size bon mots about the history, eccentricities and diversity of languages both obvious (German) and obscure (Gagauz). Plus, it’s laugh-out-loud funny—and that’s in all languages.”—American Way (December Picks for the Traveler)

“Dorren’s book is so much fun a reader might feel that half of Babel’s curse has already been lifted.”—National Post

Lingo is a charming, well-researched tour of the languages, language families, and linguistic history of Europe . . . While keeping readers entertained, [Dorren] manages to cover not just the usual suspects but also such languages as Sami, Yiddish, Romani, Armenian, Ossetian, Basque, Welsh, Manx, and Esperanto . . . Dorren’s entertaining book is just right for academic consumption and a nice treat for general readers looking for an overview of linguistic Europe.”—CHOICE

“[A] fascinating read . . . Covering the idiosyncracies of 50-plus languages, from the spelling of Scots Gaelic to the counting conventions of Breton, Dorren weaves tales of conquest, social mores and isolating landscapes with remarkable ease . . . From Yiddish to Romani to English, the book is entertaining. Now, if only I can remember all these anecdotes for my next party.”—MultiLingual

“Wonderful . . . This intriguing, thoughtful book will delight those who love words; it is also a round, solid education in the vastness of the world’s citizens’ ability and desire to express themselves . . . Amusing, too!”—Booklist

“In this bubbly linguistic endeavor, journalist and polyglot Dorren covers the evolution and peccadillos of 60 European languages . . . Dorren thoughtfully walks readers through the weird evolution of languages . . . with quirky tidbits aplenty . . . Rounded out with helpful insights such as the impact of Martin Luther . . . and the refutation of the notion that Eskimos have 100 words for snow . . . Dorren has crafted an immersive and illuminating study of something many of us take for granted.”—Publishers Weekly

“Dutch linguist and journalist Dorren . . . reveals many intriguing nuggets of information about languages from the familiar (French, German, Spanish) to the arcane (Manx, Ossetian, Sorbian) . . . For linguists and readers truly thrilled by the meticulous study of languages.”—Kirkus Reviews

“For language lovers and those who enjoy obscure facts, European culture, and politics—or all of the above—Lingo will be an entertaining book to dip into, a tasting menu of the pleasures of languages.”—Shelf Awareness

“A joyful guided tour around Europe’s linguistic landscape . . . genuinely interesting and enormous fun. Particularly impressive is Dorren’s ability to flip with ease from jokes and surprising facts to the discussion of complex linguistic ideas. . . . For the sadly monoglot, Lingo is a wake-up call: a book that brims with joy at linguistic variety and invention, and reminds us what he—and we—are missing.”—Sunday Telegraph (UK)

“The depth and breadth of [Dorren’s] understanding and knowledge are awesome . . . this charming, funny and fascinating gem of a book has persuaded me of the richness we are in danger of losing.”—Times (UK)

“I can’t praise it enough. If you ever wanted to know how exactly Finnish and Hungarian are related and how Turkish fits in, it is clearly explained here in two to three pages. And so is everything else you ever wanted to learn about European languages but were afraid to ask. Brilliant, witty, excellent!”—Times Higher Education Supplement, Best Books of 2014

“Learned and pleasantly ironic . . . In this entertaining exercise in ‘language tourism,’ the author isn’t frightened of making judgments. . . Impressively, he has taken classes in many of the languages he writes about, as well as in sign language, about which he writes illuminatingly . . . His tour of the continent is a richly diverting exercise, organized into sections on languages and their families, history, politics, writing, vocabulary, grammar and state of endangeredness. He has something interesting to point out about nearly every topic.”—Guardian (UK)

“A series of quirky linguistic stories full of etymological pleasures . . . if you believe Umberto Eco, ‘The language of Europe is translation.’ And certainly much of what’s revealing in Lingo is to be found not in the narratives or mechanics of individual languages but in the interface between them. . . . there are many etymological pleasures to be had from this book. . . full of charm and pleasing detail.”—Spectator (UK)

Lingo is not meant to be an encyclopedia but a language ‘amuse-bouche’. Smorgasbord might be a better description: through sixty compelling stories about European linguistics, it tells us an impressive amount about Europe. . . . an entertaining, accessible guide.”—Financial Times (UK)

“Full of odd linguistic facts . . . fascinating.”—Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“I love this book. It’s witty and informative, with a wealth of engaging comments on all things language-related. . . . Such amusements, along with the book’s mine of information, make this a great seasonal stocking filler—whether you’re a lingophile or not.”—Morning Star (UK)

“A new approach to understanding the world . . . ideal for any cunning linguist.”—Wanderlust (UK)

“A multitude of dinner-party facts: there’s no such thing as Norwegian (the ‘national tongue’ comprises a collection of regional dialects); that Spaniards utter an average 7.82 syllables a second; and that the last speaker of Dalmatian, in a rare example of a language dying with a bang instead of a whimper, was killed by a land mine.”—Geographical Magazine

 

Excerpt

When people speak Japanese, their gender matters a great deal. A good number of words and grammatical constructions are associated with either women or men. For starters, women are more likely to use slightly longer versions of words that make them—the words, and consequently the speakers—sound polite. Think of it as not only saying the refined word ‘luncheon’ instead of the more workaday ‘lunch’, but making the difference systematic by also saying ‘tableon’ instead of ‘table’ and ‘flowereon’ instead of ‘flower’. In Japanese, this politeness syllable is added not at the end, but at the front: hana ‘flower’ becomes ohana.

Next, women and men will use different pronouns to refer to themselves: while watashi is a formal word for ‘I’ or ‘me’ that both genders can use, atashi is clearly a women’s word and ore, boku and oira are men’s. Both genders will use the word for ‘be’ differently: in a sentence like ‘this is a spider’, men will include da for ‘is’ (‘this da a spider’), whereas women will omit it (‘this a spider’). They will use different interjections: for example, ‘Hey, you’ translates as Nē, chotto for women, but as Oi chotto or yō chotto for men; both men and women can use ā where English would have ‘oh’ (as in ‘Oh, how beautiful’), but only women may also choose ara or . Men may pronounce the diphthong /ai/ (rhyming with English lie) as /ē/ (rhyming with lay), whereas it would be unladylike for a woman to do so.

Speakers do not exactly break a hard-and-fast grammar rule when using elements normally used by the opposite gender, but they certainly break a social convention: they bend both a rule and their gender.