Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages

Product Details
$25.00  $23.25
Atlantic Monthly Press
Publish Date
5.7 X 1.5 X 8.6 inches | 1.1 pounds

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About the Author
Gaston Dorren is a linguist, journalist, and polyglot. He speaks Dutch, Limburgish, English, German, French, and Spanish, and reads nine more languages. He is the author of Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, as well as two books in Dutch and the app, The Language Lover's Guide to Europe. Dorren lives in the Netherlands.
Praise for Babel

"Fascinating . . . Dorren has an eye for what makes languages stand out from the field . . . In the hands of a less gifted author, some of the material in Babel could come across as dry or intimidating. But Dorren (as you might expect) has a way with language, and an arch sense of humor . . . Babel is an endlessly interesting book, and you don't have to have any linguistic training to enjoy it . . . As joyful as it is educational, and above all, it's just so much fun to read."--NPR

"A fascinating guide and a celebration of linguistic diversity and bilingualism, both sadly underappreciated in English-speaking nations."--Guardian

"A linguist and journalist takes readers on a global tour of the world's top 20 languages, from Mandarin, English, and Arabic to Swahili, Tamil, and Malay. How did these tongues come to prominence and what others are dying out because of them? Dorren explores the culture and quirks of each language with infectious curiosity."--Newsday

"Eye-opening and thoroughly entertaining . . . [Dorren] is wonderful company: chatty, informative, enthusiastic . . . Babel is a story not of nouns and consonants, but of empires and continents. Language is power. Sometimes it is a matter of life, lust, and death."--Times (UK)

"An accessible and entertaining dive into the most commonly spoken languages in the world . . . An excellent choice if you want to learn another language but can't decide which one . . . Accessible to longtime language scholars and casual readers alike; a delightful collection of twenty small windows to much larger worlds."--BookBrowse

"Babel--fittingly for a book on language--is about more than numbers. Dorren takes a clever approach . . . He doesn't just give an overview of the languages discussed; he explores a theme or element in each one, sometimes drawing broader conclusions on language as a whole . . . Smart, punchy prose."--Irish Independent

"Hugely readable . . . Dorren is both an intimidatingly gifted linguist and a wonderfully eloquent writer. You couldn't wish for a better guide to the wonders of the world's bewildering array of tongues."--Mail on Sunday

"Dorren expertly unpacks the baffling exceptions and structural oddities of the world's 20 most-spoken languages in his delightful latest . . . Dorren always succeeds in sharing his delight at the intricacies and compromises of human communication . . . Whether he is debunking common misunderstandings about Chinese characters or detailing the rigid caste distinctions ossified in Javanese, Dorren educates and fascinates. Word nerds of every strain will enjoy this wildly entertaining linguistic study."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Dorren offers an intriguing tasting-menu of the major standardized languages . . . An engaging and informative whirlwind tour of how major world languages are created, used and changed."--Shelf Awareness

"In surveying this score of tongues, Dorren teaches readers a great deal about how languages survive, evolve, and spread . . . As he shifts focus from language chapter to language chapter, Dorren delves into social and political dynamics affecting speech and writing . . . A fascinating foray into global linguistics."--Booklist

"Dorren proves to be a genial, fascinating guide to the modes, manners, and curiosities of the most-spoken languages in the world . . . A deft, spirited exploration of the connection of languages to a nation's identity and culture."--Kirkus Reviews

"Hugely readable . . . Dorren is both an intimidatingly gifted linguist and a wonderfully eloquent writer. You couldn't wish for a better guide to the wonders of the world's bewildering array of tongues."--Mail on Sunday

"Enthralling . . . Full of exciting stories and illuminating history lessons . . . Riveting."--Big Issue

"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