Cover image for
The World's major languages / edited by Bernard Comrie.
London ; New York : Routledge, 2009.
2nd ed.
xvi, 911 p. : ill., maps ; 26 cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Other Authors:
Comrie, Bernard, 1947-
9780415353397 (hbk.)

0415353394 (hbk.)

9780203301524 (ebk)

0203301528 (ebk)


Material Type
Call Number
Book P371.W927 2009

On Order



This volume features over 50 of the world's languages and language families. The featured languages have been chosen based on the number of speakers, their role as official languages and their cultural and historical importance. Each language is looked at in depth, and the chapters provide information on both grammatical features and on salient features of the language's history and cultural role.

This second edition has been updated and revised. Two new languages, Amharic and Javanese, have been included.

This accessible volume will appeal to anyone with an interest in linguistics.

Key features:

Attention is paid to both grammatical and sociolinguistic features Attention is concentrated on the world's major languages Designed to be accessible to all readers with an interest in language.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

This is a treasury of authoritative yet concise information about major languages and language families. The emphasis is on Indo-European, over half the book being devoted to that family. Each of the 50 chapters is written by an expert in that field. Phonology, morphology, and syntax are discussed, and, where appropriate, the writing system. Some chapters, such as that on Chinese, are very lucid and accessible to the non-expert; others are more difficult. This is not a book for beginners, and specialists will have more detailed treatments at their disposal. Its best use would seem to be in an academic reference collection, for the scholar to dip into to refresh his or her memory of a language once studied, or to get a birds-eye view of a language not studied. Includes a language index and bibliographies. Catherine V. von Schon, SUNY at Stonybrook Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

An excellent survey of some of the world's languages. For most basic reference purposes, it replaces Antoine Meillet and Marcel Cohen's Les Langues du Monde (Paris, 1924), which had been the standard reference. The book is well edited, and in general very clear and readable. Tables and diagrams are useful and straightforward. The index in such a reference book is all-important, and this one is quite good. Each selection contains a briefly annotated bibliography pointing the reader to standard works for each language or language family. There are some faults. The most important is skewed representation. Roughly half the book (440 out of 1,025 pages) deals with the Indo-European languages of Europe. This is followed by another 125 pages of Indo-European languages outside Europe. Even given the importance of a European readership and the importance of Indo-European in comparative linguistics, this is surely too Eurocentric for a book claiming to be about the world's major languages. Do we, for example, need to know as much about Pashto, a relatively obscure Indo-Iranian language, as about Arabic? One could also quarrel about the editor's notion of a ``major'' language. What classification makes Yoruba, for example, ``major'' but eliminates both Sumerian and Mayan from that classification? These reservations aside, the volume is recommended as a standard reference for all institutional libraries and for general readers.-S.A. Tyler, Rice University

Table of Contents

1 Indo-European LanguagesPhilip Baldi
2 Germanic LanguagesJohn A. Hawkins
3 EnglishEdward Finegan
4 GermanJohn A. Hawkins
5 DutchJan G. Kooij
6 Danish, Norwegian and SwedishEinar Haugen
7 Latin and the Italic LanguagesR.G.G. Coleman
8 Romance LanguagesJohn N. Green
9 FrenchLinda R. Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston
10 SpanishJohn N. Green
11 PortugueseStephen Parkinson
12 ItalianNigel Vincent
13 RumanianGraham Mallinson
14 Slavonic LanguagesBernard Comrie
15 RussianBernard Comrie
16 PolishGerald Stone
17 Czech and SlovakDavid Short
18 Serbo-Croat: Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, SerbianGreville Corbett and Wayles Browne
19 GreekBrian D. Joseph
20 Indo-Aryan LanguagesGeorge Cardona
21 SanskritGeorge Cardona
22 Hindi-UrduYamuna Kachru
23 BengaliM.H. Klaiman
24 Iranian LanguagesJ.R. Payne and Behrooz Mahmoodi-Bakhtiari
25 PersianGernot L. Windfuhr
26 PashtoD.N. MacKenzie
27 Uralic LanguagesRobert Austerlitz
28 HungarianDaniel Abondolo
29 FinnishMichael Branch
30 Turkish and the Turkic LanguagesJaklin Kornfilt
31 Afroasiatic LanguagesRobert Hetzron
32 Semitic LanguagesRobert Hetzron and Alan S. Kaye
33 ArabicAlan S. Kaye
34 HebrewRobert Hetzron and Alan S. Kaye
35 AmharicGrover Hudson
36 Hausa and the Chadic LanguagesPaul Newman
37 Tamil and the Dravidian LanguagesSanford B. Steever
38 Tai LanguagesDavid Strecker
39 ThaiThomas John Hudak
40 VietnameseÃÉÃ1/4nh-Hoà Nguy.n
41 Sino-Tibetan LanguagesScott DeLancey
42 ChineseCharles N. Li and Sandra A. Thompson
43 BurmeseJulian K. Wheatley
44 JapaneseMasayoshi Shibatani
45 KoreanNam-Kil Kim
46 Austronesian LanguagesRoss Clark
47 Malay-IndonesianUri Tadmor
48 JavaneseMichael P. Oakes
49 TagalogPaul Schachter and Lawrence A. Reid
50 Niger-kordafian LanguagesDouglas Pulleyblank
51 YorubaDouglas Pulleyblank and O. lanike and O. la Orie
52 Swahili and BantuBenji Wald