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"A magnificent piece of scholarship and editorical assembling, at--considering what books cost today--a surprisingly low price."--R.M.R. Hall, Queens College, CUNY
"This is the most thorough survey of languages and language families that I have seen which is suitable for undergraduate courses. The scholarship offers models to emulate while the selection of language groups and contributors can only serve to broaden multi-cultural awareness in students."--Patricia S. Burton, Northeast Missouri State University
"The best extant survey on the subject. It would be an excellent text for a course on world languages, or even one in general linguistics."--William E. McMahon, University of Akron
"The amount and quality of historical, sociological, and linguistic information presented in typical chapters dealing with a given language are amazing. Most chapters also include extensive descriptions of the phonological and graphic systems, morphology, word-formation, syntactic patterns, and characteristic features of the lexicon. For inflected languages, detailed and synoptic charts of major declension and conjugation classes are provided....This unique work is an important and reliable source of extensive knowledge about particular languages and their families."--American Reference Books Annual
"This impressive volume supersedes similar ones...in its treatment of families of languages and individual idioms."--Language Problems and Language Planning
"An excellent survey....The volume is recommended as a standard reference for all institutional libraries and for general readers."--Choice
"A treasury of authoritative yet concise information about major languages and language families."--Library Journal
"A substantial resource on modern languages....Recommended for all academic and large public libraries."--The Reference Book Review
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Top Customer Reviews
The contributors are mostly British and American academic linguists, each of whom wrote a section. While there are differences in style--some iron-gray academic, some a bit more lively and colloquial--each author makes sure that each language receives coverage on all its levels. An abundance of examples and explanations ensures that the descriptions, though highly technical and dense, do not lapse into obscurity. This is probably the best 1-volume work of its kind that I have seen. Its only drawback is that some of the world's most interesting languages (such as Basque and other isolates; pidgins & creoles; and some Native American and Australian languages) receive little space due to the avowed focus on languages with large numbers of speakers. A volume which included sections on minor languages / families would more accurately represent the great variety that exists in languages throughout the world.
At 1,025 pages, this book gives an extensive history and study of most of the major languages. While one reviewer on this forum was upset that Native American languages weren't cover, I feel that Mr. Comrie did his best in discussing only those languages with over 10 million present-day speakers.
I feel it would be important for many interested in cultural politics where language places a major role in dividing a nation or region (e.g. Canada/Quebec, Flemish & Walloons in Belgium, Puerto Rico & U.S., Spain's central government and Catalans and Basques) to read this book. I feel that the only lanaguage that wasn;t covered but should have been was Catalan, seeing that over 13 million people speak it and it is the 7th most spoken in the European Union (although it is not officially recognized by the organization). Besides this omission, this is one of the nest books I have read in years! A must-read for anyone interested in languages and culture.
There are chapters on most of the important languages of the world, as well as some of the language families that include these languages. Each chapter is by a different expert (actually, a few people wrote more than one chapter), and so there is some unevenness in the treatment. But in general, each of the single-language chapters gives a relatively detailed summary of the grammar and vocabulary of the language it covers; the language-family chapters describe the common features of languages in the family. The level of detail is not that of a textbook in the language, but rather enough to give someone like myself (interested in linguistics, but not fluent in anything but my own native English) a good feeling for how the language works.
The first book of this type that I ever saw was Mario Pei's "The World's Chief Languages." This book goes into more detail on any individual language than Pei's book did, but covers a smaller number of languages (though more varied ones). It belongs in the library of anyone who wants to know a little bit of how a lot of languages work.
The most difficult point to decide in compiling a book of this kind is the choice of languages to include: what constitutes a "major language"? On the whole the editors have taken the view that the importance of a language is determined by the number of speakers, but they have not been entirely rigid about that: Kannada, for example, has far more speakers than Czech and Slovak together, but is not included, whereas they are. There are others, such as Quechua (already mentioned by other reviewers), and the languages of the highlands of New Guinea (the most linguistically diverse region in the world) that have an interest that goes beyond their purely numerical importance. However, the book already has more than 1000 pages, and it is much too easy to think of other languages to include, but much more difficult to think of ones to leave out.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book covers thirty-seven languages or so, grouped by language family, sub-grouped when it seemed appropriate, e.g. Indo-European. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Marco Buendia
Book arrived in good condition. Great book for those interested in linguistics and/or languages.Published 22 months ago by Garrison56
This is an excellent volume for the armchair linguist (as well as the language curious).Published on July 28, 2014 by William E. Duncan
Encyclopedic reference, but the sections on phonology I had to skip over due to lack of background in linguistics.Published on July 19, 2014 by Dave J P
I purchased this as a resource for doing language evaluations with children from many different cultures. Read morePublished on March 2, 2014 by Claire C.
What you see (in the title) is what you get. This book consists of 50 essays. about 50 major languages and language groups, examining their history, phonology, morphology, syntax... Read morePublished on December 30, 2013 by Anne Mills
I got this book for $9.00 plus 3.99 S&H. Amazing price and amazing delivery!! Got it in less than a week!!Published on April 16, 2008 by David Leo Doyle