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The World's Major Languages Reprint Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195065114
ISBN-10: 0195065115
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Editorial Reviews


"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

About the Author

Bernard Comrie is chair of the department of linguistics at the University of Southern California. He is the author of many publications including "Aspect" and "Tense," and is editor of "Studies in Language,"

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1040 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (June 28, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195065115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195065114
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a wonderfully thick, dense, wide-ranging piece of work. If you love delving into the complexities and peculiarities of individual languages, you could get lost in this book for hours on end. I checked out every section on a language &/or family that I'm well informed about, and found the info solid and trustworthy throughout.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Ever wondered how a particular language functions? Well, this book is the one to use! It includes grammatical sketches of languages with sizeable amounts of native speakers. Each section generally contains the some of the following about a language: brief historical background, phonology, morphology, syntax, and if it's not written in Roman letters, a chart for that particular alphabet/syllabary. One of the things I particular liked was giving word-for-word translations then giving a free one. This gives me an idea on how languages like German, Japanese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, etc. form their sentences (like SVO, VSO, SOV). And also for some languages, like Polish and Spanish, it lists the allophones for a phoneme. A word of advice, I highly recommend having at least some knowledge in linguistic terminology and in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), since this book uses them extensively. This is one reference work that you should definitely have.
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Format: Paperback
One of the best books on languages, "The World's Major Languages," is a must have for all those who want to undertand the complexity and origins of many of the world's major languages. As the title reads, the book discusses the world's major languages in order by their origin groups (e.g. Teutonic/Germanic, Romance, Slavic, etc...) and Comrie in my opinion is the best author when it comes to distinguishing languages.
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.
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Format: Paperback
The only thing I can say negative about this book is that it came out in hardcover first, for nearly $100, and after I bought that, the paperback came out at a third of the price. It is one of only a couple of books for which I was ever willing to pay that much money, and that alone should be a clue as to how much I liked it.
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the best survey of the world's languages that I have come across. Although it is written by scholars for scholars to read, and parts of it are quite technical, nearly all of it can easily be understood by non-specialists. Taking (at random, the place where the book fell open) the chapter on Bengali as an example, the introduction describing the historical background occupies a little more than three pages and can be read by anyone. It is followed by a few pages on the writing and sound system, illustrated with appropriate tables and no more technical than it needs to be. The longest section is on morphology, and is again quite understandable. Afterwards comes a section on syntax, followed by concluding points. Altogether the chapter occupies 24 pages and is representative of the book as a whole.

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.
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