For linguists and readers truly thrilled by the meticulous study of languages.



Quirky facts about 60 European languages.

In his debut book in English, Dutch linguist and journalist Dorren, who speaks six languages and reads nine more, explores the origins, families, vocabularies, and grammars of 60 languages, dead (Dalmation), dying (Gaeltacht Irish), and alive. The political map of the continent appears as “a mass of solid monochromatic blocks,” the author writes, but a map of languages looks “more like a multi-colored mosaic in many places, while in other regions it resembles a floor that’s been sprinkled with confetti.” While he reveals many intriguing nuggets of information about languages from the familiar (French, German, Spanish) to the arcane (Manx, Ossetian, Sorbian), he assumes that readers have a fairly sophisticated knowledge of grammatical terms: absolutives, augmentatives, demonstratives, case, reflexive possessive pronouns, and ergative verbs may not be in every reader’s vocabulary. It helps to know the difference between subject and object, too, in order to grasp why the terms “agent” and “patient” are more appropriate to understanding Basque grammar. At the end of each chapter, Dorren cites a few words imported from that language into English: “anchovy,” from Portuguese; “avalanche” from Romansh (through French); “get” and “egg” from Early Norwegian. But nothing, sadly, from Latvian, or from Monégasque, a subdialect of Ligurian, spoken by about 100 people in Monaco. Besides borrowed words, Dorren suggests idiosyncratic terms that might well be taken up by English speakers: “Beloruchka,” Russian for a “ ‘white-hand person’; somebody who shirks dirty work”; or, from Slovak, “Proznovit,” “to make someone’s phone ring just once in the hope that they will call back.” The author describes his book as an “amuse-bouche,” a tasty morsel that gives diners a hint of a chef’s talent, and he certainly displays his own linguistic talents and enthusiasm for languages. Too often, however, he tells what people speak and where rather than how a language transformed and why.

For linguists and readers truly thrilled by the meticulous study of languages.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2407-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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