Limits of Language is a collection of the most extreme and unusual facts
about the languages of the world. It covers almost every facet of
linguistics. Written in an engaging style for a wide readership, it
nevertheless contains a great deal of information which even the best-read
professional linguist will not have encountered before. The reader learns
about the complex case system of Kalaw Lagaw La, the dazzling plural
formation in Shilluk, Sursurunga, and Kiowa, and the hundreds of noun
classes in Tzeltal. Examples are given of the intriguing verb suppletion in
Imonda, the startlingly simple tense/aspect system of Maibrat, the amazing
three degrees of lip rounding in Scandinavian languages, the unusual aspect
marking in Yimas and Berik, the astonishing article system of Chamicuro,
and the dadaistic verb morphology of Kobon.
The many hundreds of questions discussed in this book include: In what
country are people the most polyglot? How did dord come to mean 'density'?
Who made the first ever recording in Sumerian? Which linguistic fields have
the greatest appeal to women? Why do some inhabitants of the city of Baarle
say gazet for 'newspaper' while others say krant? Which preposition do
Italian children acquire first? How do deaf Japanese say 'condom'? Which
country has the most generous minority language policy? Can normal Kalam
speech really cause panadamus nuts to rot? Is a suffixed definite article
enough to make Macedonia a Bulgarian province? Why is there no point in
founding a local radio station in Laurent, South Dakota?
Apart from the languages themselves, "Limits of language" also abounds with
interesting facts about the discipline itself. The reader is served an
exposé of linguistic theories that failed the test of time, gets to know
why Adam Smith, Friedrich Nietzsche, August Strindberg, Alice in
Wonderland, Joseph Stalin, and serial killer Edward Rulloff all deserve a
place in the history of linguistics. For those with a taste for the
macabre, there is a section on unusual linguistic experiments, and for the
lewd, "Limits of Language" offers the memorable example sentences of
generative semantics, a dirty dictionary of Russian, and naughty
grammaticalizations in Ancient Egyptian and Takelma. We also get to know
our colleagues a little better by learning about left-handed linguists,
those who have spent time in prison, those who died youngest and lived
longest, and those with the most impressive hairdos. As if this weren't
enough, the book offers the linguistic life-style guide, including the
definitive top-ten list of linguistic monuments as well as the Linguist's
Calendar which provides a suitable pretext for celebrating every single day
of the year.
The book contains an extensive bibliography (nearly 800 titles) and a very
detailed index (3 500 entries).