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Review of  Atlas of World Languages

Reviewer: Picus Sizhi Ding
Book Title: Atlas of World Languages
Book Author: R. E. Asher Christopher Moseley
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Typology
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 18.3147

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EDITORS: Asher, R. E.; Moseley, Christopher
TITLE: Atlas of the World's Languages (Second Edition)
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2007

Picus Sizhi Ding, Macao Polytechnic Institute

This atlas is the second edition, revised with fresh information accumulated
over the years since its first publication in 1994. Inhabited regions in the
world are divided into 10 sections, authored or coauthored by 16 linguists. Each
section consists of two main parts: a text and a number of full-page colored
maps. These maps amount to 108 in total, with an index on the front endpaper and
key to map legends on the back endpaper. There is also an index to regional maps
in most sections. Furthermore, the language maps of each section are accompanied
with two general maps: one outlining geographic features in terms of vegetated
areas and hot deserts and the other indicating population density. The atlas is
appended with an extensive language index (pp. 375-397) and a general index (pp.

Introduction (pp. 1-3)
R. E. Asher and Christopher Moseley's brief introduction precedes the sections,
explaining the arrangement and aims of the atlas, the problem of language
boundaries, and changes to the cartography in this edition.

Section one: North America (pp. 5-44, including 9 language maps)
Under the authorship of Lyle Campbell, Marianne Mithun, Mauricio Mixco, Ives
Goddard and Victor Golla, this section covers indigenous languages of Canada,
the mainland U.S. and the northern part of Mexico. The 322 known languages are
classified into 58 units; 29 units have become extinct. As Native American
languages have lost much of their territory to European settlers, seven of the
maps are plotted according to language distribution at the time of contact. The
contemporary maps also feature a few major Indo-European languages. Other
immigrant languages with a substantial number of speakers are mentioned in the
text with pie charts for seven metropolises in U.S. Native American languages
shown on the maps are designated with consecutive numbers throughout.

Latin America (pp. 45-46)
Terrence Kaufman deals with autochthonous languages of Latin America, which is
presented in two separate sections. To facilitate his treatment of languages
spoken in this area, Kaufman makes general remarks here on useful terminology
for linguistic units. The following key concepts are explained: language and
dialect, language and genetic group, language area and emergent language,
dialect chain and language complex.

Section two: Meso-America (pp. 47-57, including 2 language maps)
As a well-defined cultural region, Meso-America consists of southern Mexico,
Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Two language maps are provided facing each other, one historical and the other
contemporary. The historical one, based on the situation at the time of contact,
shows the approximate territory of 67 languages (alongside additional varieties
of some languages) native to this region. A few of them had disappeared before
they were documented; a number of them have fallen into endangerment, even if
they can be found on the contemporary map.

Section three: South America (pp. 59-93, including 12 language maps)
With the help of Brent Berlin, Kaufman concentrates on languages spoken in South
America and the rest of Central America in this section. The 12 language maps
are divided into two sets: one historical and the other contemporary. A total of
427 languages (and additional varieties of some) are plotted on the historical
set of maps at the time of contact. Like elsewhere in the Americas, some native
languages in this region have gone extinct. On the other hand, there are still
uncontacted languages spoken in the Amazonia, unparalleled anywhere in the new
world. Indigenous languages are indexed successively in the set of historical
maps and their unique number is retained in the set of contemporary maps.

Section four: Australasia and the Pacific (pp. 95-155, including 21 language maps)
Darrell Tryon provides detailed information on indigenous languages of the
Australasia and the Pacific region, which includes all islands on the Pacific
Ocean, Australia and Madagascar. There is one historical map for the
distribution of 455 Aboriginal languages and dialects spoken in Australia at the
time of first European contact. The map for contemporary Australia, on the other
hand, demarcates only the area for surviving Aboriginal languages without
specifying the languages and their location; it also contains pie charts
indicating the top 20 community languages, the top 10 indigenous languages, and
percentages of languages spoken in the eight capital cities. Four language maps
(in 6 pages) are devoted to Papua New Guinea, which boasts the highest density
of languages in the world. There is also a map for pidgins, creoles and lingua
francas. The text is appended with an extensive list for further reading (pp.

Section five: East and South-East Asia (pp. 157-208, including 6 language maps)
David Bradley, with the lengthiest text, endeavors to illuminate the complexity
of linguistic situation under the shadow of nationalism and obscure ethnicity in
the Far East region, where Mongolia (with contribution from Alan Sanders) is
also included. The section is chiefly organized around the following groupings:
Sino-Tibetan (Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman), Mon-Khmer, Austro-Thai (Tak-Kadai,
Austroneisan, Miao-Yao), Turkic, Manchu-Tungus and Mongolian languages.
Languages of the northern part of the region, covering China, Mongolia and
Koreas, are plotted in a single two-paged map. Yunnan and Taiwan are the only
provinces of China that receive a separate treatment in the language maps. Three
maps are devoted to mainland South-East Asia.

Section six: Southern Asia (pp. 209-228, including 4 language maps)
R. E. Asher is responsible for the part of southern Asia between Iran and
Bangladesh (as the eastern most nation). Languages in this section are mainly
presented according to countries of the region. India is covered in three maps,
being one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world.

Section seven: Northern Asia and Eastern Europe (pp. 229-256, including 8
language maps)
Languages in Bernard Comrie's contribution span across northern Asia and Eastern
Europe. Two main themes in the text are statistical information from the
national census and linguistic information on major, not necessarily indigenous,
languages of the region. Alan Sanders also writes a section on the Mongol
speakers of Russia. The vast territory of Russia is divided and presented in
three maps. The other maps cover central Asia, the Caucasus, Turkey,
southeastern Europe and eastern Europe, respectively.

Section eight: Western Europe (pp. 257-274, including 7 language maps)
In this section J. Lachlan Mackenzie addresses all Indo-European languages
spoken in Europe other than Balto-Slavonic. The text is organized largely in
terms of 10 geographic areas. The language maps cover all these areas except for
Romania. Regional dialects of English, German, Italian, Spanish and French, etc.
are also indicated on the maps, though without demarcation.

Section nine: The Middle East and North Africa (pp. 275-298, including 4
language maps)
A. K. Irvine focuses on the Arabic-speaking region in the Middle East and North
Africa. At the dialectal level the linguistic diversity of the region is
reflected in the language maps. Text discussion centers around Neo-Aramaic
dialects, Hebrew, Arabic dialects, the Berber languages, languages of Sudan and
languages of the Horn of Africa, with contribution from David Appleyard for the
latter two.

Section ten: Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 299-374, including 35 language maps)
Benji Wald tackles the wealth of languages spoken in Sub-Saharan Africa in this
final section of the atlas. After remarks on problems such as the issue of
language/dialect and naming of languages, the four major divisions of languages
in the region are discussed, i.e. Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Khoisan and Chadic.
National/official languages and major languages with population figures are
presented according to countries; smaller languages are tabulated with
population figures and reference information to the maps. Five full maps are
devoted to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nigeria and Cameroon also appear in
five maps, respectively. Individual maps are provided for Mozambique, Zambia,
Angola, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Other maps typically contain two or three countries.

This atlas is undoubtedly a valuable reference work for those interested in
languages of the world. This updated and augmented edition is highly recommended
for collection in major libraries, be they academic or public. It is also hoped
that the editors, contributors and publisher will continue to produce an
up-to-date edition regularly; especially desirable would be an atlas in digital
form with a zooming function capable of displaying more geographic information
such as city names optionally on the language map.

As suggested by the description above, the ten sections vary considerably in the
length of text and the number of language maps. While all sections provide
sociolinguistic and genetic information, this also varies from section to
section as languages of some regions are better studied and some countries, e.g.
China, do not contain linguistic information on the national census. The lack of
information definitely confines our knowledge on languages spoken in certain
parts of the world.

Regions famous for great linguistic diversity include, in alphabetic order:
Africa, India, Papua New Guinea and South America (particularly Amazonia), whose
richness in languages is also reflected in the atlas. Africa has enjoyed a long
history of linguistic studies, yielding a great deal of research results and
publication. Even though some African languages are still awaiting documentation
and/or in-depth study, understanding on autochthonous languages of Africa is
impressively substantial, thanks to systematic studies in the well-established
field of African linguistics. To a lesser extent, hill languages of India and
indigenous languages in Papua New Guinea and South America have also received
good attention from linguists over the world.

To the list of great linguistic diversity regions I would like to add China, a
Cinderella whose beauty would show only with further progress in linguistic
research in the country. Given the classical problem of language/dialect,
linguistic diversity has been downplayed and distorted not just in Chinese
languages, but also in other minority languages (cf. Bradley 2006). China is one
of the few regions where new languages completely unknown are likely to be
discovered, see Dai (2006) for languages recently discovered in China. As
knowledge on languages/dialects of China increases, it will then be possible to
examine linguistic features of typological interests such as the various
prototypes of tone systems (cf. Ding 2006) among languages in the Sinosphere (a
concept advanced in Matisoff 1991 to subsume languages with a Chinese-like
profile regardless of their genetic affiliation).

Finally, a few typographic errors are found but they do not affect the overall
quality of the atlas. I would like to make clarification on two points in the
section for East and South-East Asia. The first one pertains the terms 'Kham'
and 'Khams'. The former designates a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in western
Nepal, whereas the latter is generally regarded as a 'dialect' of Tibetan, as
pointed out in the text. The language index in the appendix, however, has
confused the two. As a result, the index for 'Khams' only supplies a map number;
its occurrence in the text is merged with that of 'Kham'. In Map 51 both appear
as 'Kham' in the key; the correct name for language #31 should be 'Khams'. The
omission of 's' from 'Khams' also occurs in the key for Map 46. Another point
concerns the variety of Cantonese spoken in Macao, which belongs to the same
dialectal group as Guangzhou (Canton) and Hong Kong, not the Siyi/Seiyap group.
Indeed, Macao Cantonese is so close to Hong Kong Cantonese that the two can be
considered a single variety; native speakers of Cantonese cannot distinguish the
two on the mere basis of linguistic features.

Bradley, David. 2006. Endangered languages of China and South-East Asia. In
Cunningham et al (eds), _Language Diversity in the Pacific: Endangerment and
Survival_, pp. 112-120. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Dai, Qingxia. 2006. Remarks on studies of minority languages of China during the
Tenth Five period (2001–2005). _Journal of Yunnan Nationalities University_
23.1: 137-141. (in Chinese)

Ding, Picus S. 2006. A typological study of tonal systems of Japanese and
Prinmi: Towards a definition of pitch-accent languages. _Journal of Universal
Language_ 7.2: 1-35.

Languages of the World. On-line resources, available at

Matisoff, James. 1991. Sino-Tibetan linguistics: present state and future
prospects. _Annual Review of Anthropology_ 20: 469-504.

Wurm, Stephen A, Benjamin K T'sou and David Bradley (eds). 1987. _The Language
Atlas of China_. Hong Kong: Longman.

Picus Sizhi Ding works at Macao Polytechnic Institute. He has general interests
in languages of China, the Far East and beyond. His interests are not confined
to the grammar of languages, but extend also to maintenance of languages and
linguistic diversity.

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