Fox&Songbird

Books that are truly worth reading

Lingo

Gaston Dorren

Welcome to Europe as you've never known it before, seen through the peculiarities of its languages and dialects. Combining linguistics and cultural history, Gaston Dorren takes us on an intriguing tour of the continent, from Proto-Indo-European (the common ancestor of most European languages) to the rise and rise of English, via the complexities of Welsh plurals and Czech pronunciation. Along the way we learn why Esperanto will never catch on, how the language of William the Conqueror lives on in the Channel Islands and why Finnish is the easiest European language.

Surprising, witty and full of extraordinary facts, this book will change the way you think about the languages around you. Polyglot Gaston Dorren might even persuade you that English is like Chinese.

Recommended by Cait

As I’m a translator I obviously have a deep love of words so one of my books had to be about language but I was wary of picking anything too specialised or niche. Lingo gives a great overview of European languages with each language given its own bite-sized chapter. It’s written in an accessible way so you don’t have to be an expert to get a taster of a language – its history, similarities with other languages and differences. It’s a form of ‘language tourism’ as the Dutch title puts it. Languages are also judged according to their peculiarities but with loving exasperation and Dorren also points out when languages work better than Dutch or English. At the end of each chapter there’s a section demonstrating which words English has borrowed from the language and suggesting words which English could benefit from including utepils (Norwegian for a lager drunk outside), swjatok (Sorbian for the enjoyable hours that follow the end of the working day) and madárlátta (Hungarian for food taken for an outing but brought back home uneaten). There are even some pages to help you decipher the Cyrillic alphabet so at the very least you’ll learn some facts, some new words and who knows it may inspire you to take up a new language!