All about languages

>> Sunday, February 23, 2020

Gaston Dorren is a Dutch linguist, who's so far published 2 books in English. I've always been interested in languages, and since starting a job at an EU institution a couple of years back, the very multilingual environment has only deepened that interest. So these books were irresistible!

TITLE: Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages
AUTHOR: Gaston Dorren

Lingo was the first one I read. It's basically lots of short little chapters, each sort of like a vignette about a language. Some are exploring a particular aspect of the language (e.g. pronouns in Swedish), others a bit more creative (e.g. Hungarian having a consultation with a language expert and discovering she’s not quite as alone as she thought, as she been becoming more and more like her neighbours). The one about why Spanish sounds like a machine gun made me laugh (you should hear this Uruguayan speaking it!).

I found Lingo fascinating. I think having lately spent a lot of time learning Finnish made this even more enjoyable. I've learnt foreign languages before, but it was always pretty informal. I've got a huge dose of grammar with Finnish, though, and quite a few of these new things I've now learnt properly (like cases, of which Finnish has a ridiculous number!) really enriched the experience of reading this.

The way the book was written was also hugely entertaining. I loved the variety in approaches, and the unpredictability. I had no idea what was coming, and I found myself laughing and smiling quite a bit.

MY GRADE: Highly recommended. A B+

TITLE: Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages
AUTHOR: Gaston Dorren

After loving Lingo, I immediately bought Babel. This one goes global, and focuses on the 20 most commonly-used languages in the world.

As in Lingo, Dorren tries to keep things lively by using different approaches for each chapter, which was something I enjoyed. However, here he's less successful at making everything interesting. Some were much too technical for me. Actually, in general, I think all the chapters here were a lot more technical than those in Lingo. For some, this worked (e.g. the one on Vietnamese, where the detailed language descriptions were livened up by the author's personal experience trying to learn the language, or the Spanish chapter, where the technical stuff was made easier by me being a native speaker!), but other got boring quite fast (e.g. the one on Chinese).

The less technical chapters enjoyed mixed success as well. For instance, I really enjoyed the one on English, which basically explored whether there is something about it that makes it particularly well-suited to being the global lingua franca or whether it is simply a matter of right time, right place (right colony). But then there was the one on Arabic, that is simply a list of arabic words which we may recognise in English and other Western languages (some immediately, some a little bit more distantly). I understand and like the idea of what Dorren was trying to do (point out that although many in the West these days may see Arabic as this alien, scary thing, it's not really), but it was basically like reading a glossary.

So, not a complete success for me, but still an author I'll continue to keep an eye on.

MY GRADE: A B-.

1 comments:

Sun,  24 February 2020 at 02:05  

Added Lingo to my wishlist. Sounds super interesting. Thanks for the review.

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