A new book examining commonalities and differences among the world’s foremost 20 languages is worth a peek, says a review by Michael Schaub in NPR.
Not only does Gaston Dorren probe these languages, one chapter at a time, he also shares the conclusions he reaches about linguistic evolution. English, he says, has eliminated the need for linguistic confusion, but not owing to its inherent superiority.
Babel is an endlessly interesting book, and you don’t have to have any linguistic training to enjoy it. Dorren has a talent for explaining even the most difficult linguistic concepts in a way that’s easy to understand, and he includes helpful charts at the beginning of each chapter, listing notable facts about the language he’s about to write about. (Who knew, for example, that we get the word “mango” from Tamil, or the word “tulip” from Turkish?)
Dorren’s conclusion that English “is the end of Babel — or rather, it’s the end of Babel as a problem” might not sit well with speakers of other languages (Mandarin, Dorren contends, is “just too damn difficult” for non-native speakers to learn), but he’s careful to note it’s only because of the English language’s ubiquity and America’s position as a superpower that it’s so widely spoken.