In this bubbly linguistic endeavor, journalist and polyglot Dorren covers the evolution and peccadillos of 60 European languages starting with Proto-Indo European, which, while not the first language, is the mother tongue of Europe. Dorren thoughtfully walks readers through the weird evolution of languages (including sign language and its variants), addressing language familial relations and specific dialects (e.g., the “half-language” of Scots) with quirky tidbits aplenty, such as the story of Tuone Udaina, the last living speaker of Dalmatian, who died in 1898 before the language could be recorded. Dorren dedicates a chapter to each language and closes with a handful of the most popular “loanwords” words from it—ones that have made their way into the common vernacular (English speakers can thank the Czechs for robot) as well as ones that should, such as beloruchka, a Russian term for someone who avoids work. Rounded out with helpful insights, such as the impact of Martin Luther, the author (and Reformation leader) who inadvertently unified the German language, and the refutation of the notion that Eskimos have 100 words for snow (it’s actually the Inari-Sami language of Finland, and there are really only 20 words), Dorren has crafted an immersive and illuminating study of something many of us take for granted. Agent: Caroline Dawnay, United Agents. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/12/2015 Release date: 12/01/2015 Genre: Nonfiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.