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Dictionary of Languages:
This new tome of tongues is one of the most remarkable general reference works of the century. From Abkhaz and Abaza (300,000 speakers in Georgia, Turkey, and Russia) to Zulu (8,800,000 speakers in South Africa and Lesotho), Dalby comprehensively details more than 400 languages (living and dead), arranged A-to-Z for easy access, and delving into the political, social, and historical background of each. In addition, more than 200 maps indicate where the languages are spoken today, while sidebars show alphabets, numerals, and anecdotes.
If you've got even a passing interest in linguistics, this work of erudition is addictively browsable. In the entry on Greek is an insert on the dialect of Tsakonian. Spoken only in an inaccessible mountain district in the Peloponnese, it's a direct descendant of the ancient Greek Doric dialect. And Fulani is spoken by some 15,000,000 individuals in West Africa, thanks to the migrant, pastoral lifestyle of the Fulani people, which spread the language across the Western Sudan such that it is now a national language in Guinea, Niger, and Mali. The section on Australian languages notes that when Europeans first began to explore the continent, there were about 300 languages spoken by the people who lived there, with up to 12 existing on the island of Tasmania alone. In addition, Dalby explains "mother-in-law languages," separate speech registers that most Australian tongues have, with different vocabulary and sometimes even different sound patterns, for use in the presence of a taboo relative, such as a man's mother-in-law.
Honorary Librarian at the Institute of Linguists and a regular contributor to their journal The Linguist, Andrew Dalby makes it both easy and inviting to learn about the languages of the world. --Stephanie Gold [via]