Book Thoughts: Lingo

Lingo: A language spotter’s guide to Europe – Gaston Dorren – 2014 -Language and Linguistics

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Book description:

Lingo takes us on an interesting tour of fifty-odd European languages and dialects, from the life of PIE (our common ancestor) to the rise and rise of English, via the complexities of Welsh plurals and puzzling Czech accents. Along the way, it explains the baffling ways of Basque, unlocks Ukrainian’s enviable grammar and provides a crash course in alphabets. We learn why Esperanto could never catch on, how to language of William the Conqueror lives on in the Channel Islands, and consider if English is like Chinese.

Lingo also looks at words that English has loaned from across the continent, and those we really should import, like the Norwegians’ utepils (lager enjoyed out of doors), the Germans’ gonnen (the opposite of envy), or the Frisian tafalle (to turn out better than expected).

My thoughts:

In Lingo, Dorren is attempting to look at some of the most interesting points of over fifty European languages, and in many ways he does this. There are a huge range of languages presented throughout this book from the larger languages (like English, Spanish and German) to smaller languages I’d never even heard of before (Faroese, Monegasque and Ladino). He presents each language from a different point for example, the alphabet, pronunciation, grammar, interesting vocabulary points, or its’ history.

Honestly speaking though I found the book didn’t really hold my attention. It was a bit dull in parts especially when it got more in-depth with a small language point such as Welsh spelling patterns or the Russian alphabet. The parts of the book where he looked at the language from a point of their history or social aspects are personally more interesting to me, and I found that these chapters didn’t happen often enough through the book to keep me engaged. My favourite chapter was the Belarusian language, where Dorren presented aspects of the language from the opposing aspects of people who were pro- and anti- Russian. For languages I have very little knowledge of (most of the smaller ones in the book) I’d rather he’d presented them in a similar way to this.

I’d also have liked a small glossary included in the book. Dorren uses a lot of linguistics-related jargon that, even with a degree in Linguistics, I wasn’t certain what they meant. I think if you were just someone with a passing interest in the subject you might be put off by the more specific references.

I gave the book 3 stars on Goodreads. My degree is in English Language and Linguistics, so although I’m not an expert in languages themselves, I have a keen interest in the sociological factors behind them. This is a great book I’d probably recommend for someone who is studying English Language or Modern Foreign Languages at A Level or university for something more educational but that still doesn’t require much concentration.

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