I have a book, Languages of the World, in which a page is devoted to each of maybe 150 different languages. You don’t learn much about each language, but flipping through the book is a pleasure in much the same way as strolling through a botanical garden and admiring the amazing variety of plant and flower forms. It’s a spellbinding tour of the remarkable shapes that human thought can take.
St. Frank recently pointed me to the even more comprehensive Language Museum, which is maintained by Zhang Hong, an internet consultant and amateur linguist in Beijing. As he says in his description of the site:
The Language Museum is a linguistic website which offers the samples of 2000 languages in the world. Every sample includes four parts: (1) a sample image, (2) an English translation, (3) the speaking countries and populations, (4) the language’s family and branch.
Two thousand languages! Now that’s a grand tour… you’ve got good old standbys like Yoruba, Wolof, and Tagolog, but then you can go crazy from Northern Kissi to Southern Nambikuara, this last being a native Brazilian tongue which, from the looks of it, never gets written down except by visiting linguists. Also represented are extinct languages like Gothic and synthetic languages like Lojban.
Most of the passages shown in translation appear to be either biblical in nature or something from the Human Bill of Rights. But my favorite is this sample of Greenlandic branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language Inuktitut: Kinal uunniit pisinnaatitaaffinnik killilersugaanngitsumillu iliorsinnaatitaaffinnik nalunaarummi maani taaneqartunik tamanik atuuiumasinnaavoq, sukkulluunniit assigiinngisitsinertaqanngitsumik which is taken from an Eskimo weather report. It translates to English roughly as Snow snow snow snow snow snow and snow followed by snow snow light breezes and scattered assigiinngisitsinertaqanngitsumik. Assigiinngisitsinertaqanngitsumik, it appears, is a kind of snow.