There are roughly 6,500 languages spoken in the world today (not including Klingon, Elvish or my personal favourite, Ewokese), and many of us are either fluent in a few or can toss bits and pieces of a variety into our everyday mother tongues.
That number is a bit astounding, especially when you consider that language is constantly in flux and often nonsensical (ie. Oxford Dictionary’s 2015 word of the year is emoji, 2014 was vape). Rather than try to take to task the sheer breadth of the field, Gaston Dorren takes readers (whom he calls armchair travellers) on a whirlwind tour of Europe’s sixty most commonplace and unusual languages and dialects, all in a very digestible 320 pages.
Lingo is broken down in to nine sections including Part One: Languages and their Families (how a number of languages and dialects have sprung from one root), Part Three: Languages and Politics (which includes pieces about Catalan and Serbo-Croatian), Part Four: Written and Spoken (a very interesting crash course in exactly how to pronounce some of those Russian letters), and most importantly Part Seven: Languages on the Brink and Beyond, which details many ‘dead’ languages and a few that are clawing themselves back into more popular usage, like Manx.
It is a truly fascinating look at how one single ancestor, Proto-Indo-European (or PIE for most of us nonlinguists) gave birth to a linguistic and cultural diversity that cannot be understated. Lingo takes us into today’s remote mountain villages of Switzerland, where Romansh is still the lingua franca, to formerly Soviet Belarus, a country whose language was Russified by the Bolsheviks, to Sweden, where up until the 1960s polite speaking conventions required that one never use the word you” in conversation, leading to tiptoeing questions of the form: “Would herr generaldirektör Rexed like a biscuit?”
Spanning six millenia and sixty languages in bite-size chapters, Lingo is a hilarious and highly edifying exploration of how Europe speaks. This is a great gift for the grammar stickler or aspiring polyglot in your life. Heck, you might even come out of it wanting to pick up a bit of Welsh.
Lingo by Gaston Dorren
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics
Available now from PGC/Raincoast Books