Babel

Babel

Around the World in Twenty Languages

Book - 2018
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"English is the world language, except that most of the world doesn't speak it--only one in five people does. Gaston Dorren calculates that to speak fluently with half of the world's 7.4 or so billion people in their mother tongues, you would need to know no fewer than twenty languages. He sets out to explore these top twenty world languages, which range from the familiar (French, Spanish) to the surprising (Malay, Javanese, Punjabi). [This book] 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. Whether exploring tongue-tying phonetics, complicated writing scripts, or mind-bending quirks of grammar, Babel vividly illustrates that mother tongues are like nations: each has its own customs and beliefs. Among many other things, Babel will teach you why modern Turks can't read books that are a mere seventy-five years old, what it means in practice for Russian and English to be relatives, and how Japanese developed separate "dialects" for men and women. Dorren lets you in on his personal trials and triumphs while studying Vietnamese, debunks ten widespread myths about Chinese characters, and discovers that Swahili became the lingua franca in a part of the world where people routinely speak three or more languages. Witty, fascinating and utterly compelling, Babel will change the way you look at and listen to the world and how it speaks."--Dust jacket.
Publisher: New York :, Atlantic Monthly Press,, 2018.
Edition: First Grove Atlantic hardcover edition.
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9780802128799
0802128793
Branch Call Number: 409 DO
Characteristics: 360 pages : illustrations, maps, portraits, charts ; 23 cm

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Added 4/5/19. What does it mean to write a dead letter? Who said “Speak French, be clean”? How did the Chinese Internet meme Grass Mud Horse arise? Learn about the twenty most-spoken languages, find out which four will help you communicate with almost anyone on earth and speculate about the futur... Read More »


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danulb
Jan 04, 2019

Reads more like a collection of unrelated articles each on a different language. On the plus side, I learned a lot — even about languages I knew something about already like German and French. But the book lacks an overall coherence that made it feel more like a jumble.

This goes all the way through. For instance, you might learn something of the intricacies of the Bengali script, but little else about it. Ditto for loan words from Arabic. Sure, the author has to find something interesting to say about each language, but each language felt isolated. The overall effect for me was disjointed.

The book might best be read by picking a chapter you find interesting and then another wending around over weeks or months — not as a read through.

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