LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

Lingo: A Language Spotter’s Guide to Europe


by Gaston Dorren (author), Alison Edwards (translator).

“An intriguing tour of fifty-odd European languages and dialects.”

I really wanted to like this book, and it started well with a discussion about our common linguistic ancestor PIE; but I began struggling soon after that. However, this review is less harsh than the one I started drafting half-way through, so I encourage readers to stick with the book long enough to reach the second half. 

Each language (or language group) is given a chapter to single out its quirks – which should make for fascinating reading – but discussion often starts with, or moves on to, a different language or languages. This, together with a less than obvious connection between adjacent chapters, made it hard to get my teeth into. There are almost no maps (which would have been invaluable), and instead much space is taken up by almost entirely random pictures. Although a number of chapters contain interesting detail, some are impenetrable, others full of ridicule, and two are just silly. In general I found the author’s humour too snidey for my taste.

All that said, I liked the inclusion of adopted words, both existing and suggested, and several chapters (more in the second half) I actively enjoyed (e.g. Polish pronunciation, the Russian alphabet, Finnish spelling, Sign Languages), but although I liked bits of this book, some of it positively annoyed me, and overall it didn’t inspire me.

Edited: rating upped to three stars, because I’ve found myself talking about things I learned from this book in the days since writing this review. So it has stuck in my mind for good reasons too.


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