LINGO is myLINGO-leus book about European languages, especially written for non-linguists. It may also be read, off-label, by linguists, language teachers and translators in need of a reminder that languages are fun.

On the jacket, it says that it ‘takes us on an intriguing tour of fifty-odd European languages and dialects, from the life of PIE (our common ancestor) to the rise and rise of English, via the complexities of Welsh plurals and puzzling Czech accents. Along the way, it explains the baffling ways of Basque, unlocks Ukrainian’s enviable grammar trick and provides a crash course in alphabets. We learn (…) how the language of William the Conqueror lives on in the Channel Islands and consider if English is like Chinese.

LINGO also looks at words that English has loaned from across the continent, and those we really should import, like the Norwegians’ utepils (lager enjoyed out of doors), the Germans’ gönnen (the opposite of envy), or the Frisian tafalle (to turn out better than expected).’

I think the jacket puts it well.

– Read independent reviews of Lingo in the UKNorth America and elsewhere.
Read a few chapters on Google Books.

– See the list of all editions of Lingo.
– Buy Lingo at Waterstones, at any Amazon website (e.g. UK, USA, Germany) or in a High Street bookshop while it’s near you.

17 thoughts on “LINGO

  1. Hello! I read book Lingo and it is very interesting but where you write about Slavic languages there are some myths and wrong facts. Some facts about Slavic languages that explain why some things in the book are incorrect:

    At first, you write that there are East, West and South Slavic languages and that members of each subgroup are mutually intelligible (in the chapter about Slovenian, for example “even speakers of DIFFERENT languages… …Russians-with Belarusians and Ukrainians”). Maybe about South or West Slavic languages it is +- true, but “East Slavic languages” is a myth of Soviet and Russian propaganda. (a long explanation below)
    Better classification (may be not 100% correct):
    Slavic languages
    South Slavic
    Western South Slavic (Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian)
    Eastern South Slavic (Bulgarian, Macedonian)
    North Slavic
    Western North Slavic (Polish, Czech, Slovak, Sorbian)
    Ruthenian/East North Slavic (Ukrainian, Belarusian)
    Russian (mix of South Slavic, Ruthenian and something other)

    Both South Slavic languages and North Slavic languages form dialect continuums.
    About “East Slavic languages”:

    What is common in so called “East Slavic languages”? Usually it is said that the main feature of “ESL” is that proto-Slavic “ol”, “or”, “el” and ”er” changed to “olo” and “oro” (in West “lo”, “ro”, “le”, “re”, in South “la”, “ra”, “le”, “re”). But even the name of this feature in Russian (polnogLAsije), especially when compared with Ukrainian (povnohOLOsśa) proves that it is not very true. In some Russian words it is written according to this rule but spoken “la” and “ra”. There are some other features but they all are either only in Ukrainian and Belarusian and only in some words in Russian, or in Russian and only some words in other “ESL”s. Russian has a lot of features of South Slavic languages, both in phonology, as with proto-Slavic “ol”/”or”, and in vocabulary.

    In vocabulary, Ukrainian (I think Belarusian too) also has more in common with West Slavic languages, than with Russian (officially, Ukrainian and Russian – 62% of common vocabulary, Ukrainian and Polish – 70% of common vocabulary, Ukrainian and Slovak – 68% of common vocabulary).
    I (as a Ukrainian speaker and former Russian speaker) mostly understand West Slavic languages and most of words that I understand (except for those that are similar in all Slavic languages) are similar to Ukrainian, not to Russian words.

    Ukrainian and Belarusian are mutually intelligible and in general very close and have some common features like synthetical future, but Russian speakers (who know only Russian) only partially understand Ukrainian/Belarusian. Most Ukrainians&Belarusians fully understand Russian only because they know it.

    The most famous linguist who proved that “ESL” is a fake, is George Yurji Shevelov/Schneider.
    About dialects

    You write that only Slovenian among Slavic languages has dialects. Yes, Russian almost does not have dialects, but most of other Slavic languages do have dialects. For example, in Ukrainian there is at least western group of dialects, which is very different from standard (some dialects are even sometimes called “Rusyn language”). By the way, some of these western dialects preserved dual number. And there are a lot of other dialects, but they are often classified as suržyk, which not always right.

    You also wrote that “no language borders between Croatians, Serbian and Bosnians”. I agree that Serbo-Croatian is 1 language, but it also has many dialects, 3 main groups. (and the differences are not between for example Serbians and Croatians but between Croatians and Croatians)
    1) Thank you for this book
    2) “East Slavic languages” is fake
    3) Not only Slovenian among SLs has dialects


    • Thank you for your kind response and your additional information.
      The groupings East, West and South do not, I would say, imply that the current languages within those groups are closer to each other. For centuries, Ukrainian was strongly influenced by Polish (I can read Ukrainian much better than Russian thanks to my limited knowledge of Polish), whereas today’s Russian contains a good deal of ‘imported’ Old Church Slavonic. Yet in prehistorical times, let’s say at some point in the first millennium CE, the East Slavic languages were – to the best of my knowledge – dialects of each other. I think the situation can be compared to that of English: while it is a West Germanic language like German and Dutch, it has drifted away from these a good deal, owing to the influence of both North Germanic and Romance (French and Latin). Same with French and Romanian: pretty different from their Romance siblings, as a result of Germanic and Slavic/Balkanic influence respectively. Also, I am pretty confident that the Slavic languages today have higher mutual intelligibility than the other two big European families, simply because their divergence started later.
      Do I really claim in my book that the Slavic languages other than Slovene have no dialects? As I remember it, it says only that Slovene dialects are way more distinctive than one would expect in such a small country, whereas Russian, Polish, Ukrainian and even Serbo-Croatian dialects are less so, especially in the light of their geographical spread.
      Finally, I think I mention in the book that the ‘real’, or historical, dialects of Serbo-Croatian are not to be found in today’s four countries, but mostly in regions whose borders intersect with the national borders; Croatia is home to most of this variety (though I seem to remember that in Serbia and perhaps Bosnia, there is a Northeast-Southwest gradient of decreasing number of nominal cases, blending into ‘case-poor’ Macedonian and Bulgarian).
      I’m interested to learn what you think about the above suggestions and views.


      • Thank you four reply. Even if “East Slavic languages” were dialects of each other in prehistorical times, now they are not very close, but in the book, chapter #27 you write that they are mutually intelligible like Czech and Slovak, Bulgarian and Macedonian. This main thing that is wrong.
        In first millennium:
        1. In the first half of the first millennium there was proto-Slavic language.
        2. Then separate dialects and then languages started to appear. NOT 3 (East, West and South) dialects and languages that later separated. But Old [modern language] or there were common languages (with dialects for modern languages) for some subgroups, I mean for these small subgroups like Ruthenian, not like “East/West Slavic”.
        Also, I read a translation so some things can be a little different than in the original.


      • You’re right, I do say that the East Slavic languages are mutually intelligible. I had my sources for that, but I suspect your information is more reliable. Thank you! Which version of Lingo did you read – the one in English? (Russian? Polish?)


      • Yes you mention about Serbo-Croatian, I only now found it and read again, because when wrote everything this I did not read that chapter, sorry for writing that part of comment


  2. Just finished reading your book, Lingo, and i found it thoroughly enjoyable. I like the way you boiled the languages down into easily read chapters which kept me entertained and informed

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed reading your book! I was in Erasmus then and shared the facts with all my friends. EventualIy I made some comments and passed the book on, so I’m eager to see, what’s my friends experience with the book is going to be like!
    I felt as if the differences in languages could also quiet well explain the different ways we think (and try to built sentences in other languages…). Looking forward to your next book!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi!

    Thank you for your book, I really enjoyed it! On the other side, I don’t think I have become better at recognizing languages as there were too many curious facts! You should write separate books about groups of languages that are closer to each other (like scandinavian, west slavic and so on). I will be waiting for those books! One question only: why didn’t you write about Swedish? This seems quite unfair to me.


    • That would have been unfair, I agree. Fortunately I did: chapter 18 is all about Swedish.
      I am working on a new book about languages, but it’s not the one you are suggesting, I’m afraid. Quite a few people have suggested I write a book about this or that. Can’t please everyone… But thanks for the idea!


      • Aha. Actually, I read this book in Swedish and there is no chapter about the Swedish language in the translation. Instead, chapter 18 is about Catalan.


      • Ah, correct; I noticed. I wonder why that is. I think the chapter on Swedish is not at all bad. But perhaps the publisher thought it silly to have a foreigner tell the Swedes something that’s widely known in their country.


  5. Yes, I got here after reading your fascinating book Lingo. l loved it! But I have one comment: On page 133, you stated that the word ‘chocolate’ came to English from Spanish. It may have come through Spanish but I think you’ll find it was originally ‘chocolatl’ from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs of central Mexico. Coyote, and several other words, also came to us from Nahuatl.


    • Thank you very much for your message, it always makes me happy to hear that readers have enjoyed Lingo. Writing is solitary work, so hearing back from people is really lovely, and especially when the response is favourable.
      You are absolutely right about Spanish having, in turn, borrowed chocolate from Nahuatl, and the same is true for tomato, chili, avocado (and guacamole), cacao, coyote as you say, and some less familiar words. Many of the French words in English have Latin roots, some of those have Greek roots and those again have deeper roots, sometimes in Proto-Indo-European, sometimes in some unknown language spoken in Greece before the Greeks arrived.
      What I’m trying to say is, borrowed words always have quite a history, and often that involves more borrowing. Take the other Spanish words mentioned in that paragraph: armada, mosquito and aficionado have Latin (and Indo-European) roots, but potato, maize and barbecue were all taken from an Amerindian language called Taino and guitar has deep roots in Greek but passed through Arabic before reaching Spanish and then English.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s