Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Story of Spanish by Nadeau & Barlow ****

Let's start with full disclosure: I LOVE books about about languages, especially their history. The Story of Spanish by Nadeau and Barlow is a fascinating and comprehensive new entry in this genre, the gold standard of which is: The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson.

Spanish is a romance language, like French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian, derived from vulgar (spoken) Latin, all of which belong the the Indo-European languages and trace back to Sanskrit, and maybe something even older Ice Age Superlanguage.

This book is full of wonderful trivia like the Iberian peninsula was named before the Romans by the Phoenicians and means something Land of Rabbits, and canoe and barbecue are native American words from the time of Columbus that English received through Spanish. In addition to etymology, spelling, grammar, this extensive book also covers history, politics, economics and sociology of both Iberia and Latin America for the last 2,000 years.

All of which leads to my one small complaint ... parts of this book veer far from language into politics (Spain lost it's premier position in the world because of the Inquisition) and promotion (I can't even count the number of times the Spanish-language Nobel prizes are mentioned.) Some sections are just long lists of Spanish-language authors and accomplishments - reminiscent of Oscar acceptance speeches.

Overall a wonderful book for anyone interested in language and words.

For more, listen to this free podcast: PRI's Patrick Cox interviews Julie Barlow.

I received a free copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.

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