Books on popular linguistics flood out, not least from the David (and now Ben) Crystal factory. Lingo by a Dutch writer, looked as if it promised something more substantial within the genre, and got good reviews on publication at the end of last year, but did not quite hit the mark for me.
Yes there is lots of interest, yes there are lots about some of the minority languages of Europe (sixty of which are covered) but ultimately the book failed by being just too, well, popular, and for having an annoying, jokey, over-familiar text: “There once was a green and fertile land – let’s call it Kleinstein – where a prosperous and civilised people flourished under the benign leadership of a price whose name was as unassuming as his people: John. … What was striking about the Kleinsteiners was their knowledge of languages…” in his introduction to Luxembourgish.
The sixty languages are spread over short chapters, each with bit of history, an anecdote and, again annoyingly, a note at the end of words in those language which comprise a whole concept in English, which have no direct translation.
Lingo – a nicely designed book – was published as an “affordable hardback” in time for Christmas. It makes a nice present. It’s designed to live forever in people’s loos and to be the source of many “did you know that…?” comments after use. If such limitations are accepted, it is a good book, but anyone looking for an overview of European languages should look elsewhere. On the other hand, did you know that some people in Jersey, Guernsey and even Sark speak individual dialects of Norman French? See pages 57-62.