Babel by Gaston Dorren


English is the world language, except that most of the world doesn't speak it--only one in five people does. Dorren calculates that to speak fluently with half of the world's 7.4 billion people in their mother tongues, you would need to know no fewer than twenty languages. He sets out to explore these top twenty world languages, which range from the familiar (French, Spanish) to the surprising (Malay, Javanese, Bengali). Babel whisks the reader o...

Details Babel

Release DateDec 4th, 2018
PublisherAtlantic Monthly Press
GenreNonfiction, Humanities, Language, Linguistics, History

Reviews Babel

  • Katie
    Babel is an ambitious undertaking by linguist Gaston Dorren to explore the top twenty languages spoken in the world from the #20 to #1 spoken language (in which this review is written). As a native English speaker who has difficulty becoming more than monolingual, I enjoyed learning new things about the history and grammar of these different languages. However, I felt that at some time the book became too technical about linguistics and at other ...
  • The Captain
    Ahoy there me mateys!  I received this non-fiction eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . .Even though English is the "world language," the fact of the matter is that most of the world doesn't speak it.  This book explores the idea that to speak fluently with half of the people in the world, ye would need to speak 20 languages.  This book set out to explore those 20.The concept of this book be ...
  • Yvonne (It's All About Books)
    Finished reading: November 25th 2018 *** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Atlantic Monthly Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! *** (view spoiler)[Some of you might already know I'm actually a philologist and linguistics has always been one of my favorite areas of study. Therefore I thought Babel would be perfect for me... I mean, traveling the world through twenty languages that together can make you c...
  • Bandit
    Babel was supposed to be a great linguistic adventure. Around the world in 30 languages Sounds exciting, doesn’t it. And I do have a serious interest in linguistics, so it seemed right up my alley. Until it wasn’t. At least, not quite what was expected. It’s a literary equivalent of meeting someone at a party and they tell you they are really into books and you’re really into books so you think you’ll have this awesome stimulating conve...
  • Mandy
    If you love words, you’ll love this, and if you love languages, then you’ll love it even more. Dorren takes the 20 languages with the most speakers – out of the estimated 6000 languages that exist in the world today – and explores their origins and peculiarities. The expected ones are of course English, Arabic and Mandarin, but Tamil and Javanese are included in that 20 too – who’d have thought? Each chapter is devoted to a different ...
  • Natalie
    I was a huge fan of Dorren's first book, Lingo, and this one does not disappoint. Each chapter explores a concept related to one of the "Babel" languages, twenty languages one would have to know to speak to half the world. Each chapter is different from the last, covering a wide variety of subjects from the history and politics of the language to the intricacies of verb tense and script. Because each chapter was so different, I inevitably ended u...
  • Melissa
    I very much enjoyed Lingo (Dorren’s tour through 60!languages of Europe) and so was definitely looking forward to Babel, where Dorren does a deep-dive into the 20 most-spoken languages of the world. What’s nice about Dorren’s writing is the way he constructs each chapter to serve the point he wants to make in the chapter, one might be a Q&A, another a history of the region, another a recounting of his attempt to learn a serviceable amount o...
  • Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
    Books about English language, such as those by John McWhorter and David Crystal are some of my favorites, and I also like the "deep dive" into other languages, such as the books about French and Spanish by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau. Then there's the books that dip a toe into many languages, such as this one by Gaston Dorren. Babel looks at the twenty languages that are spoken by the most people in the world. Dorren starts with some stat...
  • Jeff
    A look at the 20 most spoken languages in the world, through 20 (21, really) essays about topics related to those languages. Some of these essays will be more engaging than others, depending on your interests. While I was less interested in the author's personal anecdotes about his failure to learn Vietnamese, the story of how Turkish underwent a drastic and arguably disastrous enforced modernization in the 20th century was entertaining. Bengali ...
  • Dan Ust
    Reads more like a collection of mostly unrelated articles each on a different language. On the plus side, I learned a lot — even about languages I knew something about already. But the book lacks overall coherence... making it feel more like a jumble. This goes all the way through. For instance, you might learn something of the intricacies of the Bengali script, but little else about it. Ditto for loan words from Arabic. Or Spanish grammar... I...
  • Tamar
    Basically an introduction to linguistics through the lens of the 20 most spoken languages today. An excellent read that helped clear up a lot of questions I had about other languages, especially Mandarin!
  • Nóri Goreczky
    As an amateur language enthusiast/wannabe polyglot, a book like this is heaven for me. I’m constantly in the mood for starting to learn a new language, and then I never actually do it, but I have plans, you see. Before reading this book, my plans were, in a nutshell: touch up (basically re-learn) my German and my Spanish, really lay into my Swedish (so that I won’t start forgetting it like the other two), and start either Welsh, Russian, Fren...
  • Anastasia
    I was excited to be reading this book. It introduced many linguistic concepts with which I was not familiar –from differences in writing systems, scripts, tonality and so on; it prompted sporadic research (that admittedly didn’t go further a Wikipedia page) on more interesting topics; and above all reminded how diverse and infinitely rich our common human heritage of language is.I liked it that the book was written as neither a grammar book w...
  • Annie
    What makes a language a lingua franca? In Gaston Dorren’s entertaining and enlightening exploration, Babel: Around the World in 20 Languages, it seems to come down to a mishmash of timing, economics, cultural dominance, government policy, and colonization. Dorren looks at the twenty most spoken languages in the world—Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, Javanese, Indonesian/Malaysian, Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi, Hindi/Urdu, Farsi, Turkish, Ar...
  • John August
    The best chapters make up for a few that drag on (Russian, I'm looking at you). I found the early chapters on Thai, Swahili and Indian languages I wasn't familiar with the most interesting. The final chapter on English is a bit of a disappointment. While I'm happy Dorren didn't rehash one of hundreds of books on the history of English, the chapter doesn't seem especially connected to the journey of the book. In many ways, English seems to embody ...
  • Martha
    Let’s talk about what this book is not: an introduction to the twenty most common languages of the world. Rather, it’s a look at elements of linguistics through the lens of those twenty languages, touching on everything from grammar to politics, with a particular theme of examining the history of lingua francas. In terms of the languages I speak - English, Japanese, and Spanish- his account of them is quite accurate (not always the case in li...
  • Shari Suarez
    A guide to the 20 most spoken languages around the world. Each chapter begins with a guide to the language which includes the number of speakers, some grammar information and the countries in which the language is spoken. It then follows with a story about the language, some focused on culture and some focused on linguistics. I found the information at the beginning of the chapters fascinating and most of the stories were good as well. However, t...
  • Debra Schoenberger
    A fascinating look at the evolution of 20 of the world’s most spoken languages and the history that shaped them. No language is an island and the author explains in detail the symbiotic relationship that exists between several of the languages such as Urdu and Hindi. As I language student, I found the information interesting, however I tended to skip the chapters that weren’t currently of any interest to me. I read this as a .mob file but hav...
  • Jeanne
    This book is for the hardcore linguists. I enjoyed the chapters that focused more on historical changes than those on grammar or tone explanations. If nothing else, it definitely made me feel somewhat guilty for grammar policing.
  • Dan Konigsburg
    Romp across the 20 most-spoken languages; the Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese and English chapters are entertaining for the author’s hands-thrown-up frustration in learning their intricacies.