Dictionary of Languages: The Definitive Reference to More than 400 Languages

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Overview

Approximately how many languages compose the Bantu language group of central and southern Africa? What is the name of the language spoken in Hawaii by an estimated two thousand people? What Western European language is not known to be related to any other language family in the world — and is considered by linguists to be one of the most difficult to learn?

These are only a few of the questions language lovers, linguists, and lay readers will be able to answer with the Dictionary of Languages — an easy-to-navigate, authoritative guide to the world's languages and language groups at the end of the twentieth century. Andrew Dalby had the needs and interests of general readers in mind when he compiled this comprehensive reference work — most other language guides are written for scholars, and many include little or none of the absorbing social, cultural, geographic, and historical details that are brought together here.

In the Dictionary of Languages, readers will find:

•a selection of four hundred languages and language groups, arranged alphabetically, with rich, detailed descriptions of the genesis, development, and current status of each;

•more than two hundred maps displaying where the languages are spoken today;

•sidebars showing alphabets, numerals, and other enriching facts

•a comprehensive index listing additional languages, guiding readers to the nearest language groups with full writeups and maps;

•charts breaking down large language groups — such as Bantu or Austroasiatic languages — by geographic region and approximate number of speakers.

In a world where geopolitical boundaries often explain little about the people that live within them, where we may read about Kurd and Khmer in the same newspaper and be expected to be conversant about each — if not conversant in each — Dalby's single, information-packed volume helps us make sense of the rich mosaic of world languages.

Columbia University Press

Outstanding Reference Source: Reference and User Services Association of the American Library Association

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Editorial Reviews

Council on National Literatures
A well-ordered, concise, alphabetical summary of over 400 world languages. The basic information for each entry includes the countries or areas where the language is used, the number of people who use it, and a brief historical survey... This is a volume for every library and home.
Booklist
The extensive range of languages covered makes this an extremely useful source.... A welcome addition.
AB Bookman's Weekly
Comprehensive and engaging.... Dalby's Dictionary of Languages is enriched by its author's lively presentation of historical detail and the wide-ranging and often intriguing selections of material from the languages discussed.
Choice
An approachable, historical linguistic dictionary of the 400 'major languages of the 20th century.' Rich yet concise.... This is an excellent source.

— A. C. Moore

Language in Society
This book provides the sort of information about the languages of the world that is most often sought by the curious reader, and as such it should be available in every library. It would be right at home in many a private collection as well.

— Peter T. Daniels

Geolinguistics
Reliable for specialists, fun for browsers, this big book is a very useful reference tool.

— Leonard R. N. Ashley

Book Digest (Council On National Literatures)
This is a volume for every library and home.
Choice - A.C. Moore
An approachable, historical linguistic dictionary of the 400 'major languages of the 20th century.' Rich yet concise.... This is an excellent source.
Language in Society - Peter T. Daniels
This book provides the sort of information about the languages of the world that is most often sought by the curious reader, and as such it should be available in every library. It would be right at home in many a private collection as well.
Geolinguistics - Leonard R. N. Ashley
Reliable for specialists, fun for browsers, this big book is a very useful reference tool.
(Council On National Literatures) - Book Digest
This is a volume for every library and home.
Choice - A. C. Moore
An approachable, historical linguistic dictionary of the 400 'major languages of the 20th century.' Rich yet concise.... This is an excellent source.
New Yorker
"Not quite the Greek you taught me," wrote Michael Ventris to his old classics teacher after decoding an ancient Aegean script that had baffled experts for years. In The Man Who Deciphered Linear B, Andrew Robinson narrates the short, brilliant career of a self-effacing amateur, an architect who spoke at least ten languages and learned Swedish in two weeks. In Lost LanguagesRobinson places Ventris's work alongside two other famous decipherments -- that of Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone and the ongoing decipherment of outrageously complex Mayan glyphs -- before moving on to ancient scripts that have yet to be cracked, including Rongorongo, a script from Easter Island that looks as if Keith Haring might have designed it. Undeciphered scripts, one veteran of the field says, are "powerful kook attractors," while another cautions that "the simplest, most mundane and least surprising explanation of any inscription, is likely to be the correct one."

The reasons a language gets written down in the first place seem to vary. In the Mediterranean, says Andrew Dalby in his Dictionary of Languages, the impetus was a need for reliable accounting. Bookkeeping, in other words, preceded books. However, David Crystal warns in Language Death that "when a language dies which has never been recorded in some way, it is as if it has never been." Many scholars believe that the coming century will see the death of half of the six thousand or so languages currently spoken -- about one language every two weeks. Crystal's most piquant insight into the problem comes in a South African taxi whose driver speaks all eleven of his country's official languages but whose chief ambition is "to earn enough to enable all his children to learn English." (Leo Carey)

Library Journal
This encyclopedic dictionary offers an overview of over 400 alphabetically arranged living and extinct languages and language families. Introductory material provides background information on why languages grow apart and converge, some basic methodologies of historical linguistics, views on learning other languages, and frequently asked questions/answers about language. As in his Guide to World Language Dictionaries (LJ 3/15/99), Darby clearly describes and explains the book's many reference features, which include a glossary of 100 linguistic terms. He also explains positions taken on linguistic disagreements and considers each language's history, relationships to other languages, and estimated current speakers. To illustrate where a language is presently spoken and its proximity to related languages, 200 maps are included, along with examples of script, numerals, and alphabets. Cross references point to additional coverage, e.g., from "Latvian" and "Lithuanian" to "Baltic Languages." An extensive index gives access by languages and dialects referred to in the text or by major languages spoken within a country. Less technical than the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (LJ 4/1/92), this highly practical work intended for the nonspecialist is an excellent source for browsing or reference.--Stanley P. Hodge, Ball State Univ. Lib., Muncie, IN Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Details about 400 languages (both living and dead) of the world, including those that have official status or have a written literature, plus 175 minor languages with special historical or anthropological interest. Covering the political, social, and historical background of each language, it offers insight into human culture and communication. The text is highlighted by b&w maps and charts of scripts, while proverbs, anecdotes, and quotations reveal the features that make a language unique. Arranged alphabetically. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231115698
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/3/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 800
  • Sales rank: 1,048,955
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.92 (h) x 2.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Dalby is Honorary Librarian at the Institute of Linguistics in London. He is the author of many books, most recently, Language in Danger (Columbia, 2003).

Columbia University Press

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