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Dictionary of Languages

Auteur :
Éditeur : A & C Black Date & Lieu : 1998, London
Préface : Pages : 754
Traduction : ISBN : 978-1-4081-0214-5
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 154x235 mm
Thème : Dictionnaires

Table des Matières Introduction Identité PDF
Dictionary of Languages

The Definitive Reference to more than 400 Languages

First ofall, I am grateful to the authors whose explanations and examples have been quoted throughout, either because they help to demonstrate a special feature of the language under discussion, or because they relate to themes which emerge from the book as a whole — the multiple social uses of language and oral literature, and the complex ways in which languages have interacted with one another. I am also grateful to Gamma Productions, Vijay K. Patel and other makers of TrueType fonts used in the alphabet tables. The maps are based on outline maps produced by a shareware program, Clpmap, developed by W. W. Mayfield, 23219 Audrey Avenue, Torrance, California 90505.

The London Goodenough Trust for Overseas Graduates and the Institute of Linguists gave me the impulse to begin the Dictionary of Languages. Maureen, Elizabeth and Rachel excused me many hours of neglect as I worked on from Abkhaz to Zulu. It was a struggle to mould a shapeless text into a shapely reference book: somehow, Sarah Prest and others at Bloomsbury Publishing managed it.

The language and language family headings in this book are in alphabetical order from Ab-khaz to Zulu. Cross-references are given in SMALL CAPITALS. Maps, and sometimes boxes listing numerals or other examples, often bring together information on two or three related languages: the cross-references always serve as a guide.
It has usually been possible to give at least the numerals, 1 to 10, as an example of the way a language looks and sounds. Other information often displayed adjacent to the text includes foreign scripts and their equivalents in the famil-iar Latin alphabet. A surprising number of these scripts can now be found as TrueType fonts on the World Wide Web (see acknowledgements on p. 734).

This book is not designed as a bibliography or reading list. Often, however, information and examples in the language entries are drawn from sources to which an interested reader could go to find out more. Thus, wherever it may be useful, full references to sources have been given.

Puttlng sounds on paper

No ordinarily used writing system is adequate for recording all the sounds of any and all human languages. Alphabets as short as the Greek (24 letters) or the familiar Latin alphabet (26 letters) are not fully adequate even for most single lan-guages. English, for example, by the usual count has about 40 'phonemes' or structurally distinct sounds.

Linguists therefore use special extended al-phabets to record pronunciation precisely. The commonest is the International Phonetic Alpha-bet (IPA). Specialists in some language families have their own conventional alphabets and signs (see box at MORDVIN for an example).


A line above a vowel makes it long. An acute accent on a vowel means that stress falls on that syllable. In tonal languages, however, these and similar signs have sometimes been used to mark tones: - for high level, ' for rising, ' for falling, and an underline for low level tone.
In general, to make easier reading, words usually written with a forest of accents are ac¬cented only on the first occasion that they are used.

The statistics

Unless otherwise stated, the figures in this book give the number of `native' or `mother tongue' speakers for each language. Some, from English and French to Amharic and Tagalog, are spoken by many millions more as second languages. This is one reason why statistics in different reference books may seem to conflict (see also `Facts, real facts and statistics', p. xiii).

The maps

Language boundaries are not like national boundaries: languages spread, and overlap, in a way that only very detailed statistical maps can show accurately. The two hundred maps in this book show simply and clearly where each lan-guage is spoken and, if possible, its nearest neighbours. Nearly all the maps are drawn to a standard scale — 320 miles to the inch. Just as the statistics allow a comparison of native speakers for each language, so the maps show what area of the earth each language covers.

Each map deals with a language or language group, and these are named in bold face. Shading indicates the main areas where these languages are spoken. Isolated places where the same lan-guages can be heard are marked with a cross. Other neighbouring languages, not closely re¬lated to these, are named in lighter type. Major cities are marked by a circle. As an example, this map of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth shades the areas where Westron, Grey-Elvish and the language of Rohan are spoken.

There are a few smaller scale maps (for example, the map of `Language families of the world' on pp. xii—xiii). All these are at the scale of 1,000 miles to the inch. Italic face is used in lettering these maps as an eye-catching reminder of the difference in scale.
These are the major languages of the 21st century — their history, their geography and the way they interact. Astonishingly, no other book in English brings them together in this way.

The world has many more languages than these. From over five thousand that are spoken in 2004, a selected four hundred languages and language groups have entries here. Many more can be found in the index, but they are still only a minority of the total number of living languages.

Every language is a unique and uniquely im-portant way to make sense of the world; but a choice had to be made. The languages selected here are those spoken by the great majority of the people of the world. These are the languages that the 21st century needs to know aboutfirst: national languages of independent countries, languages of important minorities that will make news, classical languages of the past. Most entries are for lan-guages with more than a million speakers. Some, such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese, are spoken by hundreds of millions.

All the languages that have not been given entries in this book have fewer than a million speakers. Some have only one or two speakers, and many that were until recently spoken by thriving communities are now extinct. This is an accelerating trend. It is easy to foresee a time, perhaps a hundred years ahead or less, when most of the languages left out of this book will not be spoken at all, and when many of those included will —— so to speak —— be struggling for speakers.

As a language falls out ofuse, one of those unique ways of making sense of the world is lost.

Why languages gr~w apart

All 'living languages' or 'mother tongues' — all the languages that children learn when they first learn to speak — are continually changing. The change happens in at least two ways: for lan-guage change comes from the very nature of childhood learning, and also from the demands that we make, throughout life, on the astonish-ingly flexible medium of communication that language is.
Look first at the way children learn to speak.

Language is a palette of sounds, a dictionary of words made up of those sounds, and a grammar of rules for combining the words meaningfully. Usually we are unaware of the making of sounds, the choosing of words and the applying of rules, yet this is how we speak and this is how we understand what others say. Every child that learns to speak practises sounds, builds up a dictionary, and works out a set of rules. Every child does all this largely unconsciously, with incomplete help and unreliable guidance from parents and friends and teachers who, them-selves, are only half conscious of the rules. Every child does this afresh. The range of people from whom each child learns is different. And children are not clones of one another.

Thus everyone's sound patterns, everyone's dictionary and everyone's language rules are original and slightly different from everyone else's. This is how change and originality are built into the nature of human language learning. And this, incidentally, is why the 'grammar of a language', as opposed to the grammar of a single person's speech, is an abstract formulation —— a highly useful one that we simply cannot do without when we want a standard language, or a foreign language, to be taught.
Since those living in a community interact most with others in the same community, every-day speech in any one community tends, over time, to diverge from that in others. We notice the differences: we talk of the 'accent' or of the 'dialect' of those whose speech uses identifiably different sound patterns, different words or dif-ferent grammatical rules — though still so close to our own that we can understand it easily. Aus-tralian English and British English have grown apart, quite distinctly, in little over a hundred years.

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