1996-07-16: The Loom of Language

The Loom of Language

An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages (1944)

by Frederick Bodmer (1893-1955?), edited by Lancelot Hogben (1895-1975)

I purchased this book for Chris, after she expressed interest in learning several foreign languages. I found it by chance, and examined only the table of contents and part of one page in a bookstore. It is well worth reading and, perhaps, studying.

The book contains:

  • a detailed discussion of the Indo-European (often called Aryan) language family, and the place of English in that family.
  • an overview of other language families (Semitic, Bantu, Sino-Tibetan) and some other languages
  • discussion of the nature of flexions of Indo-European languages
  • discussion of the mechanisms of change in flexions that have led to the differences between Greek, Latin, Romance, and Teutonic languages
  • many examples in various languages
  • a guide to learning the Teutonic and Romance languages, with special attention to recognizing cognates to English words and among the other languages
  • a discussion of language planning with descriptions and criticism of Esperanto and several other languages (Ogden’s Basic English is also discussed)
  • a sketch of the principles for a new world language

As might be expected from such an ambitious work, there are problems with organizing the material, evident below the chapter level. Much related material appears widely separated, and some material is repeated in several places. A digest of certain parts of the book might be a useful work in its own right, particularly the parts concerned with learning Indo-European languages.

Some challenges arise from reading such a work:

  • Define a new language along the given principles, with precision similar to that used for a computer language.
  • Learn one Romance (e.g., Italian) and one Teutonic (e.g., Danish) language using the approach described.
  • Relate the size of memes to the kinds of words that occur in languages. (Perhaps things, places and times; relations between things, places and times; and changes in relations.)

I have not read all of the book, and probably won’t. Even so, it is a book I expect to return to many times.

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