A brilliant case of language-spotting

Miz B over at Should Be Reading hosts Musing Mondays with a great list of questions to prompt bookish musings. This week’s random question asks: Did you get any books for Christmas? What are they? Did you buy them yourself, or were they given to you?

I can’t really imagine not getting any books for Christmas, so I’m very grateful that this year was no exception. I’m not going to list them all here, but one deserves a special mention because I got two copies of it and I’ve already finished reading it.

imageThe book was Gaston Dorren’s Lingo: A Language-Spotter’s Guide to Europe. And I have to say that if I have to have two copies of any book in my life, then this is a hot contender for doubling up. It’s a brilliantly-written collection of snapshots of some of the distinctive – and especially the quirky – features from many different languages spoken in Europe.

When I first saw it on the bookshop shelf, I just had to buy it! How could I not with a title and subtitle like that? And then some one else saw it and immediately bought it for me too!

Languages have fascinated me for as long as I can remember, so Dorren’s book was always going to be irresistible to me. And it didn’t disappoint at all. Even though some of the particular quirks highlighted were already familiar to me, there was still plenty that was new and utterly fascinating. But it’s not just a book for passionate linguists like me. I think it works as a book anyone could read and enjoy. The author’s humorous style of writing is wonderfully easy-to-read and highly engaging. Short chapters introduce fascinating facts and anecdotes from a huge range of languages from right across Europe. It’s obviously nonfiction, but the book’s readability makes its subject accessible to non-specialists and fun too. The author himself describes his work as both a guidebook and an amuse bouche. 

I loved all of it, but language change is something I’ve long found fascinating, so the chapters looking at changes to Dutch pronouns, spoken and written versions of Norwegian, the ‘you’ changes in Swedish, modern Irish, Slovene dialects and the resurrection of Cornish and Manx were particularly fascinating. And the chapter on Breton numbers was mind-boggling. Imagine trying to get your head around the sum: three times six & three times twenty plus nine & half times a hundred! It makes 78+59 in English look an absolute doddle!

I hope I’ve managed to convince you that Lingo is worth a read. Even if you’d never call yourself a language-spotter (we are quite a rare breed, after all!) do give this book a try. I’m pretty confident you won’t be disappointed – there’s a fun language fact or story for everyone in this great linguistic amuse bouche. 

5 thoughts on “A brilliant case of language-spotting

  1. Cannot wait to get this! My master’s degree is in Linguistics but, more than that, I just love language and always have. As for Christmas books, I (asked for!) and got An Atlas of Impossible Longing (Anuradha Roy), An Obedient Father (Akhil Sharma), and Life after Life (

    • Thanks for commenting. I often wish I’d carried on with linguistics – hope your Masters goes well. As a current student of linguistics, you might find you know even more of the language stories in Lingo than I did. But the author does a great job of making the fascination with language that we all share more accessible for everyone.

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