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Review of  The Routledge Concise Compendium of the World's Languages, Second Edition

Reviewer: Geoffrey S. Nathan
Book Title: The Routledge Concise Compendium of the World's Languages, Second Edition
Book Author: George L. Campbell Gareth King
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Language Documentation
Issue Number: 23.2855

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AUTHOR: George L. Campbell & Gareth King
TITLE: The Routledge Concise Compendium of the World’s Languages, Second Edition
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2010

Geoffrey S. Nathan, Department of English, Wayne State University

This is a curious, but entertaining book. It falls somewhere between a series of
Wikipedia entries and a collection of reference grammars, although it’s closer
to the former than the latter. It’s based on an even more curious book, the
first edition, which was put together by George Campbell: ‘Campbell, who was
listed in the Guinness Book of World Records during the 1980s as one of the
world's greatest living linguists, could speak and write fluently in at least 44
languages and had a working knowledge of about 20 others.’ (LA Times Obituary,
Dec. 21, 2004). For Campbell, languages were a hobby--he loved them and picked
them up at a drop of a hat, but he had virtually no linguistic training of the
traditional sort, so his descriptions make more prototypical linguists such as
myself a little uneasy. For example, in the description of English it says ‘One
and a half thousand years after Hengist and Horsa, the local dialect they
brought with them from Denmark to Kent shows every sign of becoming the
planetary lingua franca in the twenty-first century’ (Campbell & King 2011: 176).

The second edition was revised after Campbell’s death by Gareth King, a more
prototypical linguist whose expertise is Welsh (he’s the author of King 2000 and
King 2003). Interestingly, King chose not to revise some of the more colorful of
Campbell’s comments, in order to retain the flavor of the original.

The book covers 110 languages, and attempts to be somewhat representative of the
world by including at least one language from each of these families:
Afro-Asiatic, Algonquian, Altaic, Austro-Asiatic, Austronesian, Dravidian,
Eskimo-Aleut, Indo-European, Kadai, Khoisan, Na-Dene, Niger-Congo,
Palaeo-Siberian, Sino-Tibetan, Siouan, Kartvelian, Tupian, Uralic, Uto-Aztecan,
Isolates (Japanese, Korean, Quechua, Aymará, Ainu, Basque, Ket, Mapudungu, Nivkh).

Of course, some families have lots of instances (Indo-European has 46) while,
somewhat naturally, Eskimo-Aleut has only Inuit, and Khoi-San has only Nama.

The book is divided into a small introductory section, with a glossary of
technical terms (from ablaut to velar), a list of IPA symbols by ‘feature’
(vowels, then stops, fricatives etc., with only non-roman letters listed) and
another one by alphabetic similarity (with the same restriction) and a list of
abbreviations (from abl. to W/Arm.)

Then follows the major portion of the book, the 110 language sketches.
Each language sketch is roughly five to seven pages, and has an Introduction
with some facts about geography, number of speakers and relative vitality and
comments on significant literary works (so for Catalan he lists Ramón Llull; for
Georgian the poet Šota Rustaveli, and for Nahuatl, The Annals of Cuauhtitlan).

For each language there follow sections on Phonology, with a list of phonemes
with some notes on the significant allophones, and Stress and/or Tones. A Script
section summarizes Roman conventions if that alphabet is used, and a description
of any non-Roman orthography, including samples if easily integrated into Roman
text (the Japanese entry includes both in-text hiragana and kanji examples). At
the end of each article is a sample written text. In the case of languages
without a standard orthography (such as Berber) there is a romanized sample. For
languages with two or more orthographies (such as ‘Serbo-Croatian’ [sic] and
Inuit) there are two or more samples. Generally the text is from the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (although there is, for example, a religious text in
Sanskrit, one of the few not-really-spoken languages in the book, Latin being
the other).

A section entitled Morphology and Syntax has subsections on Noun, Gender,
Number, Possession, Adjective, Pronoun, Interrogative Pronoun, Numerals, Verb,
Negation, Prepositions, Word Formation and Word Order. The Verb section often
has subsections on things such as Aspect (for Slavic languages), Mood,
derivational verbal morphology (for Arabic and Amharic) and similar ‘extras’ as
dictated by the nature of the language.

Ordinarily in LINGUIST list reviews the reviewer provides a summary of each
chapter, but with 110 chapters this is not practical. Instead, I will discuss a
few selected chapters, focusing on languages I know well, but mentioning also
those about which (like many linguists) I know a

The description of English is, unsurprisingly the longest in the book, 11 pages.
It includes a two-page history, including a list of ‘periods’ in English
literature. The phonology example (described as ‘a typically standard system’)
presents the vowels of Received Pronunciation (RP), but with some odd choices.
It lists three high front vowels (i ɪ iː) without explanation other than to
mention that [ɪ] is one of two short vowels (the other being schwa) that can
occur at the end of a word.

Somewhat surprisingly it also includes a brief slap at prescriptivist
grammarians in the section on prepositions, noting that the objection to ending
a sentence with a preposition is ‘ill-founded and make[s] no sense’ (Campbell,
et al. 2011: 185).

The chapter on Italian, representative of a common Indo-European language, is,
to the best of my knowledge, accurate, mentioning briefly the importance of
Dante and, contemporarily, Fellini and Bertolucci. Although the description is,
for the most part, synchronic, the author (like, I suspect, most other
linguists) can’t resist the occasional explanatory historical comment: ‘Many
instances of consonant gemination are the result of assimilation of consonant
clusters + compensatory lengthening: ottimo ‘best’ (2011: 338), as well as the occasional comparative comment ‘Note that Italian has
generalized the Latin 1st and 2nd declension plurals (-ae and -i respectively)
while Spanish instead has generalized the Latin accusative plurals in -s’
(Campbell, et al. 2011: 339).

The chapter on Turkish, on the other hand, contains several errors. It correctly
mentions that /k g l/ have palatalized allophones in proximity with front
vowels, but incorrectly uses the IPA symbol for a dark l [ɫ], while what happens
is (similar to English) that clear [l] occurs next to front vowels, and dark
[ɫ] occurs next to back vowels. In addition, it states ‘voiceless stops and
affricates are voiced at junctures preceding a vowel: e.g. kitap ‘book’,
accusative kitabi; ağaç ‘tree’, genitive ağacın’ (p. 731). This is not a
standard view of Turkish phonology (although the issue is less clear than it
used to be -- see Becker (2011). Underlying /b, d/ surface as devoiced
word-finally and before consonants, and as [b d] elsewhere, while underlying /p
t/ always surface as [p t]. The complexity occurs around ‘underlying’ /g/, which
surfaces as [k] after consonants, as compensatory lengthening after consonants
but generally as ‘nothing’ intervocalically -- either as a glide between vowels
of differing backness or simply as a hiatus between identical vowels, leading to
what are technically minimal triples:

dağ [da:] ‘mountain’
dağa [daa] ‘mountain (dat.)
da [da] ‘also’ (Underhill 1976: 11–2)

The section on script fails to mention the grapheme , pronounced [dʒ],
although /dʒ/is listed as a phoneme.

Finally, although the examples illustrating the negative verb inflection are
correct, the description of the morphology is oversimplified.

Hebrew is, in general quite accurately described. The chapter begins, as one
would expect, with a brief history (again with the personal enthusiasm that is a
hallmark of this book: ‘Today it is spoken as a native language by over 4
million people -- a spectacular testimony to the single-minded efforts of
Ben-Yehuda a century ago, and an inspiration to advocates and planners for
declining and endangered languages around the world.’ (Campbell, et al. 2011:
282). There is also a brief list of contemporary authors and poets, but no
mention of the thriving Israeli film industry (as contrasted with, for example,
the Hindi and Chinese entries).

The phonological and grammatical sections are generally correct (although there
is no mention of the fact that minority dialects such as Yemeni and Iraqi retain
pharyngeal pronunciations lost in the standard language.) There are a few
simplifications. Under the tense section it states that Present is marked by
_me-_, which is true only for some conjugations. Lastly, under the section on
prepositions it does not mention that many of them are proclitic (or even
prefixal, depending on one’s theory of morphology), so _ledavid_ ‘to David’,
versus _lifne david_ ‘in front of David’.

Chinese is described correctly as one of a group of mutually unintelligible
languages that are ‘traditionally termed “dialects” of Chinese’. The chapter
confines itself to modern Chinese, also widely known as Mandarin.

There’s a brief listing of notable literary and movie works, from Dream of the
Red Chamber through Bawang Bie Ji -- Farewell my Concubine. Phonology,
orthography and syntax are all briefly described, with examples of compounds and
other two-morpheme ‘words’ cited with both pinyin transcription and standard
Hanzi characters. In keeping with a focus on what might be described as ‘cool
stuff a linguist might be interested in’, there is a small section on
four-character expressions, including those made famous during the Cultural
Revolution (san xiang yi mie ‘three capitulations and one cut-off’) and
traditional proverbs (_wang yang bu lao_ ‘lose sheep, repair pen’ -- i.e. close
the barn door after the horse has left.)

The discussion on word order accepts the Thompson & Li (1989) view that Chinese
is a topic-prominent language and consequently ‘It is therefore difficult to
characterize Chinese as either an SVO, SOV, or indeed OSV language, since all
these orders are perfectly possible (Campbell, et al. 2011: 135).

At the end of the book is a comparative grid of numbers from 1-10 for each
language listed alphabetically, a similar grid for each language, classified
genetically (both handy for a quick set of data in an introductory Historical
class), an appendix illustrating orthographies (‘scripts’), from Arabic to
Tibetan with IPA equivalents where appropriate and a stroke chart for Chinese,
and finally a simplified classification of languages by family and major
subfamily. For example:

Berber Berber
Chadic Hausa
Cushitic Oromo, Somali
Semitic Arabic, Maltese, Hebrew, Amharic

Ultimately, how can we evaluate this book? It’s a handy desk-reference (although
a little heavy, and fat -- 2 1/4 inches thick). But do we need such a paper
object when we have the web? When we have Wikipedia? There are entries in
Wikipedia for every language in the book, and some of them are, of course, much
more extensive than the six to ten pages in the Compendium. On the other hand,
some of them are much less extensive. The information on Nama in Campbell and
Jones greatly exceeds the Wikipedia entry, for example, with far more detail on
grammar. If you need to know whether a language has gender, or marks
definiteness, its uniform structure will lead you to the answer instantly. On
the other hand, if ‘your’ language isn’t in there (so, for example, if you are
interested in Tigrinya rather than Amharic) you’ll be out of luck.

Alternatively, it could serve as a textbook for a course on ‘Languages of the
World’. There are very few texts for such a course. In the old days one could
use Meillet (1952 -- for those whose French is good) or (Fraenkel 1967 -- for a
very low-level course) but they are both long out of print. I have recently used
Comrie et al. (2003), and there is the older Lyovin (1997) and the
just-published (Pereltsvaig 2012). Each of these has something to recommend it
(Comrie et al. has colored pictures and sidebars, making it suitable for a
low-level general education course, and both Lyovin and Pereltsvaig have lots of
introductory linguistic material to supplement the parade of language families
and typological categorizations. But they don’t have the uniform descriptive
material in the present book. Finally, the book is priced well above what the
average undergraduate could afford (it lists currently at US $240 -- roughly
€190), so I’m not convinced I could recommend it for that reason alone.

Becker, Michael, Nihan Ketrez and Andrew Nevins 2011. The surfeit of the
stimulus: Analytic biases filter lexical statistics in Turkish laryngeal
alternations. Language 87.84-125.

Campbell, George L. & Gareth King 2011. The Concise Compendium of the World’s
Languages, Second Edition. London and New York: Routledge.

Campbell, George L. & Gareth King 1995. Concise Compendium of the World’s
Languages. London ; New York: Routledge.

Comrie, Bernard (ed.) 1987. The World’s Major Languages. New York: Oxford
University Press.

Campbell, George L. & Gareth King, Steven Matthews & Maria P. Polinsky] [i.e.]
(consultant editors), J. Aitchison 2003. The Atlas of Languages: The Origin and
Development of Languages Throughout the World. New York: Facts On File.

Fraenkel, Gerd 1967. Languages of the World. Boston: Ginn and Company.

King, Gareth 2000. The Pocket Modern Welsh Dictionary: A Guide to the Living
Language, ed. by Gareth King. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

King, Gareth 2003. Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar (Comprehensive
grammars). London and New York: Routledge.

Lyovin, Anatole V. 1997. An Introduction to the Languages of the World. New
York: Oxford University Press.

Meillet, Antoine (1952). Les Langues Du Monde par un Groupe de Linguistes Sous
la Direction de A. Meillet et Marcel Cohen. Paris: Centre national de la
recherche scientifique.

Pereltsvaig, Asya 2012. Languages of the World: An Introduction. Cambridge ; New
York: Cambridge University Press.

Thompson, Sandra A. & Charles N. Li 1989. Mandarin Chinese: A Functional
Reference Grammar. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Underhill, Robert 1976. Turkish Grammar. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Geoff Nathan is a full Professor in the Linguistics Program at Wayne State University, where he is located in the English Department. He received a doctorate in Linguistics with a specialization in Syntax from the University of Hawaii but he has spent most of the rest of his career as a phonologist, teaching first at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and then at Wayne State in Detroit. His primary interests are in Cognitive Phonology (having been one of the earliest to publish on that topic), but he has also published on phonetics and the history of linguistics and has recently begun exploring the relationship between the cognition of language and music. He has a textbook on phonology within the Cognitive Grammar framework. He also has a second (simultaneous) career as Wayne State’s

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