Native Tongues by Charles Berlitz
One of my primary interests in languages is how much they reflect society and cultures. We've all heard the anecdote of how the Eskimos have a vast number of words for types of snow. That is the type of material that this book covers. "Native Tongues"
The author is Charles Berlitz, well known linguist and grandson of Maximillan Berlitz, the founder of the world renowned Berlitz School of Languages, and to whom this book is dedicated. Mr. Berlitz breaks down this volume of facts into 39 categories, including "How Languages Spread and Decline," "Same Sounds, Different Meanings," "Our Mysterious Alphabet," "Languages Lost – and Found Again," and even some unexpected ones, like "Languages in Space" and "There Were Others Before Columbus."
The moment I opened this book at random, and started reading, I couldn't stop. The range and quality of the facts are astounding. I was, for example, surprised to learn that during the American Revolutionary War, the national language of the new United States of America was almost German, save for one vote.
Many of the items are surprising, and some are downright ironic. For example, this anecdote about the Irish language (pg. 82):
During a "speak Irish" campaign, signboards throughout the Irish Republic proclaimed "Cut the last tie with England, the language! Use Irish!" (But the signs were written in English.)
The book is not a scholarly write-up on language development or linguistic issues. It's not meant to be. It is a very easy to read volume of language lore and facts that are fascinating. As I read this, my mind started racing, because one could easy take any of these categories and explore just that in depth. My compulsive nature had to be kept in check, because I already wanted to start addressing so much of the material.
If you can get your hands on a copy, I encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed.
The Atlas of Languages
I will start off by saying I like this book. It's large, colourful, entertaining, and fun to read. You can flip through the book and see charts on language families, maps of language locations, sidebars of language information, and tons of fantastic coloured pictures from places all over the world. The visual stimulation of the book is superb, and definitely worth seeing.
However, on a serious level, the book fails in a few ways. First, the title itself is misleading. Anyone that has opened an atlas knows it to be filled with maps, charts, and facts. This book has many maps, but they are all simplistic and often inaccurate. And the statistical information, what little there is, is equally suspect. The maps and charts are also intermingled among text and images, so it is much harder to find any information the book might reveal. That would be fine - if they didn't call it an "Atlas." This is more of a simple overview of languages rather than a serious reference book.
My major complaint about the book is the amount of extra material that is included, but has no real bearing upon languages. At the same time, it also contains a lot of extra material that is relevant to languages, but more as interesting side notes, so I guess it depends on how relevant the material is.
I feel the book is aimed at people that are interested in languages, but not ready to get into depth with them. Flipping randomly, I find a passage referring to Bantu languages, and it focuses on Ndebele. There are a few paragraphs on Nbdebel, a few tidbits, then the short section ends with "[…] In other Bantu languages the corresponding forms are often different." And that's it: no looking at others, no further discussion. The reader is just left wondering what those "different forms" are. This is the typical handling of material in the book.
Of course, the claim to be an "Atlas" on world languages would be a hefty one, considering the number of world languages still alive is over 6000, but if a book claims to be an Atlas of them, it should deal more with the languages and less with trivia and pictures that, while entertaining, are of little real use to a serious language student.
My copy of the book is paperback, but there is also a hardcover version. This would more likely be called a coffee table book: the kind that is large, full of nice pictures, and looks attractive on a table while making the owner appear very knowledgeable, which is the reason I like the book. You can sit down and leaf through it and look at the nice pictures. However, if you want a serious book on languages of the world, this isn't the book for you. I would give it a 4/5.
All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.
|Letter From The Editor - Tracing Words|
|Constructed Languages - Making It All Up|
|Language Conflicts - Flemish vs. Walloon|
|Rohonc Codex - Hungarian Enigma|
|At the Cinema - Il Comandante e la Cicogna - Garibaldi's Lovers|
|Where Are You?|
|Words in Your Mouth - Sausage|
|GlobTech - Using Locale|
Find previous issues in the archives.
Letter From The Editor - Nom de Plume • News Brief • Mark Your Calendar • Language Learning In The Globalization Era: - Translation, Culture And Power Relations • When Pigs Fly • Introducing Words R Us • Languages in Peril - The Good Language of Brazil • In Focus • At the Cinema - Un Sac de Billes • Language Puzzles • Where Are You? • Book Look - Aikainen lintu nappaa madon. Sananlaskuja läheltä ja kaukaa • Basic Guide to Croatian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - No Politics • Make Your Own Language Group • A History of Research in Study Abroad • Parrot Time on Patreon • Languages in Peril - Sayonara, Ainu • At the Cinema - La Coppia dei Campioni • Where Are You? • Book Look - The Bible of the Language Learners and Polyglots • Basic Guide to Romanian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Hope and Failing • Six Ways To Choose Which Languages To Learn • Learning Spanish - The trials, the tribulations and one triumphant learning hack • At the Cinema - The Last King (Birkebeinerne) • Celebrations - Birkebeinerrennet • Where Are You? • Book Look - Langenscheidt Dictionaries • Basic Guide to Swedish • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Culture and Language, Again • Learning A Language Is Learning Its Culture • Revisited - Early Bardic Literature in Ireland • Languages in Peril - Save Medan Hokkien! • In Others' Words - Ulrike and Peter Rettig • At the Cinema - Monster Hunt • Where Are You? • Book Look - Language Alter Ego • Basic Guide to Italian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - A Kind Word • Language and Power: The Hidden Struggle • 4 Ways To Learn Through Reading • Language Learning is for everyone! • Languages in Peril - The Decline of Sicilian • At the Cinema - The Host • Where Are You? • Book Look - Italian Short Stories for Beginners • Basic Guide to Hungarian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Making it Happen • Motivation - Expressing oneself and the expression of oneself in language learning • Motivation Killers in Learning a Language • Mixing Languages and Relationships • In Others' Words - Brian Powers • At the Cinema - Cutting Room Floor • Languages in Peril - Cyprus' Language Revival Approach Problem • Where Are You? • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - The Importance of Travel • Broadening The Mind Travels The World • The Secret Life of Diacritics • There Are No Wrong And Right Gestures, Only Cultural Differences • Google Translate Exposed: - The Truth Behind Everyone's Favorite Translator • At the Cinema - Queen • Book Look - The A to Z of Learning German • Where Are You? • Basic Guide to Papiamentu • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Free Things • The Cost of Free Language Resources • Review of Polyglot Workshops: Brazil • Easier Way to Learn Languages Fast • Dream, decide, do - tips from a polyglot • At the Cinema - Cambio de Ruta • Languages in Peril - Talysh • Where Are You? • App Rev - Tandem • Book Look - Language Master Key • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Studying in Summer • Polyglot Events All Around The World - You Are Not Alone • Playing Games with Language • Spanish E-training – The 'Big Bang' Investment • Can a Language Die? • At the Cinema - La Casa del Fin de los Tiempos • Languages in Peril - Scottish Gaelic • Words in Your Mouth - Apple • Celebrations - Nag Panchami • Where Are You? • Book Look - Fluency Made Achievable: The Fluent Guide to Core Language Skills • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Sounds Like • How Do You Say It? - A look at sound notation systems • Of Pidgins and Creoles - A look at how some languages are born • Who Are You To Learn A Language? • At the Cinema - Dil Chahta Hai • Languages in Peril - Yumans on the Edge • Words in Your Mouth - Egg • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Breaking with Tradition • Are You Wasting Your Money on Language Classes? • Chatting in Languages Online - Part 2: Voice Chats • Why English Is Different Than Any Other Language • The Digital Language Collective • At the Cinema - Viva La Libertà • Languages in Peril - The Tribes of the Tamil-Kannada • Words in Your Mouth - Rice • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Thirteen • Chatting in Languages Online - Part 1: Text Chats • Why Do People Learn Languages? • The Question Of Practice - An International Language Is Possible • At the Cinema - Chinese Puzzle • Celebrations - Fastelavn • Words in Your Mouth - Cheese • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Over Time • Which Language Is...? • The Ultimate Fate of Language Learning • 5 Funny Words In Afrikaans From My Perspective • At the Cinema - Everybody's Famous! • Word on the Streets - Why Writers are Important • Words in Your Mouth - Milk • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - World Ambassadors • Coming Home to Faroese - The Why and How of Learning a Small Language • Danish and Faroese: A Biography • At the Cinema - Ludo • Basic Guide to Faroese • Celebrations - The Faroese Festival Summer • Revisted - The Faroe Islands • Word on the Streets - Famous Faroe Islanders • Where Are You? • The Grind: Why the Faroese Hunt Whales • The Legend of the Scottish Princess • Faroese Ballads - Nornagest Ríma and Ormurin Langi
Letter From The Editor - Expansion • Religion in Culture • Languages in Peril - Decline of the Gallo-Italics • Language Learning and Translation • Word on the Streets - Italian Greats • Book Look • At the Cinema - Xingu • Celebrations - Hangul Day • Where Are You? • Words in Your Mouth - Bread
Letter From The Editor - Tracing Words • Constructed Languages - Making It All Up • Language Conflicts - Flemish vs. Walloon • Rohonc Codex - Hungarian Enigma • At the Cinema - Il Comandante e la Cicogna - Garibaldi's Lovers • Where Are You? • Words in Your Mouth - Sausage • Book Look • GlobTech - Using Locale
Letter From The Editor - Globalization • Speaking with Aliens • Celebrations - Esala Perahera - The Festival of the Tooth • Language Conflicts - Bokmål vs. Nynorsk • At the Cinema - Pane e Tulipani - Bread and Tulips • Revisited - Words Which Have Changed Their Meaning • Languages in Peril - Keeping Up With The Kartvelians • Where Are You? • Sections - Reviews • Word on the Streets - Indonesian Innovators • GlobTech - Google Translate Section
Letter From The Editor - The Highlander Condition • When Languages Meet • At the Cinema - Mal Día Para Pescar - Bad Day to Go Fishing • Celebrations - Tanabata - The Star Festival • Languages in Peril - The Romanian Relatives • Revisited - Words Made By Great Writers • Where Are You? • Language Learning Methods - Immersion • Sections - Links
Letter From The Editor - Price of Fame • Liber Linteus - Mummified Language • Pencak Silat • At the Cinema - Bombay • Celebrations - Inti Raymi - Festival of the Sun • Cracking the Code • Languages in Peril - The Chibchan Family • Revisited - Words From The Names Of Animals • Word on the Streets - Great German Authors • Where Are You? • Language Learning Methods - Internet • Sections - Neighborhood
Letter From The Editor - Why Polynesian? • Rongorongo - Island Chants • Otto Dempwolff - Islands of Language • At the Cinema - Whale Rider • Celebrations - Pasifika Festival • Special Feature - Avoiuli • Languages in Peril - The Island Invasion • Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui's Home • Word on the Streets - Malay Masters • Where Are You? • Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui Snaring the Sun
Letter From The Editor - Linguist or Polyglot • The Phaistos Disc - Puzzle of Crete • Otto Jespersen - Progress of Language • At the Cinema - Kukushka - The Cuckoo • Celebrations - Carnival • Languages in Peril - The Salish Tragedy • Word on the Streets - Kannada Writers • Where Are You? • Revisited - Stories In The Names Of Places • New Souls • Language Learning Methods - Software • Sections - Parleremo YouTube
Letter From The Editor - Freaking Out • The Voynich Script - Cryptic Codex • Benjamin Whorf - Relativity of Language • At the Cinema - Lost in Translation • Languages in Peril - The Polish Connection • Word on the Streets - Romanian Poets • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Holi • A Language Dream • Revisited - Words From National Character • Language Learning Methods - Classes • Sections - Language Exchange
Letter From The Editor - Truth in Advertising • Linear A & Linear B - Lost Minoan • Edward Sapir - Patterns of Language • At the Cinema - Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner • Word on the Streets - Norwegian Notables • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Valentine's Day • Languages in Peril - The Rhaeto-Romance Trio • Revisited - Proverbs • Linguistics Love Song • Language Learning Methods - Books • Sections - Recordings
Letter From The Editor - A New Parrot Time • The Rosetta Stone - Triple Cypher • Ferdinand de Saussure - Signs of Language • At the Cinema - L'auberge Espagnole • Languages in Peril - The Finno-Ugrics • Word on the Streets - The Russian Zone • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Day of the Dead • Revisited - Slang • We Are The Linguists • Language Learning Methods - Audio • Sections - Journals
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