I’m a bit late with this, but I wanted to get enough of my books categorized that my own statistics page would make an impressive showing (I’ll bet no other LT users come close to 145 languages!). Anyway, LibraryThing has added a feature I’ve been wanting since the beginning, language support:

• Every book has three fields: primary language, secondary language and original language.
• Languages are drawn from Amazon, your library record or the whole LibraryThing collection…
• The catalog shows “language” and “original language” fields. Go to “change fields” to see them.
• Language can be edited within your catalog, much as tags are.
• Each language has its own dedicated page (eg., French). At present, these only show the most popular works originally in that language.

Now, I have some complaints about the system. It would be useful to have more than “primary” and “secondary” fields; I have a number of books that have three equal languages, like Moderní Perská Frazeologie a Konversace by Mansour Shaki, which has everything in Czech, Persian, and English. And the “complete” menu of languages is immensely frustrating; it includes extremely minor languages like Yapese and breaks French down into Old and Middle as well as the modern variety, but lumps all the Chinese “dialects” (actually separate languages) under the same heading, so that I have to file my Cantonese dictionary, phrasebook, etc., as if they were Mandarin. Meanwhile it perversely insists on breaking the single language Serbocroatian down into Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian, so that I have to decide for each book how to file it; I pretty much flip a coin, except that I give the original language of my Andric novels as “Bosnian”—it would probably piss him off, but books like Bridge on the Drina and Bosnian Chronicle are full of Turkish loan words and local expressions, and if you’re going to use “Bosnian” for anything it might as well be that.

Similarly, there’s no listing for Hindustani, so I have to choose whether to list certain books under Hindi or Urdu when the choice makes no sense. Also, the menu doesn’t include Dari (the variant of Persian spoken in Afghanistan) or Sicilian (they have a listing for Sardinian, for Pete’s sake!), and even though they have Indo-European (other) and Sino-Tibetan (other) and Romance (other), they don’t have Turkic (other), or Old Turkish either, which forces me to pick “Turkish” for books that don’t really fit there. But enough bitching and moaning; I’m very glad Tim did this, and consider this another plug for LT. If you haven’t seen it yet and you love books, go over and sign up!


  1. I don’t know how else you could classify Andrić, if your only choices are Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian.
    I’ve read The Bridge on the Drina (in English translation) but I don’t know much about him and don’t know why he would be offended by a “Bosnian” classification.

  2. They have Arapaho but not Gupapuyngu? grr.
    51 languages for me in the books I’ve catalogued so far (including 31 Australian languages)

  3. dagger: As I recall, Andric was something of a Serb patriot who disliked political particularism. I may be misremembring.
    Claire: Ah, but those 31 are all under “Australian languages”! I’m talking 140+ separately classified by LibraryThing! (Not fair to say 145, because I realized that includes “Miscellaneous languages” and “Multiple languages.”)

  4. Languages from Amazon are heuristic, based on the country of the publisher and the country specific Amazon site. And library data is frequently missing or dead wrong. So one has to go through and double check. I still haven’t finished. I’m just shy of 100 different, so that seems an attainable goal, if nothing compared to LH’s.
    I just noticed that Old Spanish was Spanish at the LOC. Except there is no Old Spanish; you’re supposed to use Romance (Other). So now I’m kinda torn.
    Another one that annoyed me was a single code for Biblical and Modern Hebrew. And in the other direction, there’s Pali and Prakrit languages and Syriac and Aramaic. I know that splitter vs. lumper battles will never be settled, but I could wish for more consistency toward one camp or the other. Or there’s a level missing, as with Cree/Micmac/…, Algonquian (Other), [Algic (Other)], North American Indian (Other), where the Wiyot book ended up (though I guess that’s hardly as settled as some other breakdowns). But at least it’s a standard, so we aren’t all inconsistent among our individual libraries.
    Here’s the official list, for anyone who hasn’t already seen it.

  5. An innocent question:
    What’s the point of having books in languages you can’t read?

  6. I guess some people can’t read 100 or more languages. Sheesh. 🙂

  7. Plus that some of the languages you can’t read are written up in letters you can’t read, and they look nice. This sounds like a near moronic reason but I am quite fond of how Ethiopian looks, and would not mind possessing a book written in it. In that case, I might even get round to learning to read it…

  8. As a lover of foreign printed matter, I tip my hat to you. 🙂

  9. Steve, I haven’t catalogued most of my linguistics book yet, so I might give you a run for your money one of these days 🙂 Then again, maybe not…
    The point of having books in languages you can’t read? To give yourself something to do in retirement…

  10. Besides, one can use a language even if one can’t “read” it. I can’t read Tamil, say, but I can use my Russian-Tamil dictionary if I want to know the Tamil word for something. (And I should point out that the vast majority of those languages represent bilingual dictionaries, not books in the languages.)

  11. sara: You could get yourself an illuminated magic scroll in Ge’ez off eBay. Then when you don’t feel like explaining yourself, it’s just a folk painting on parchment.

  12. Now how on Earth did “Moderní Perská Frazeologie a Konversace” reach your shores ? :o)
    A truly impressive collection, sir. The last time I catalogued my library (which is now split between my parents’ house and my apartment), I arrived at 87 languages. Since that was 3 years, several Amazon orders and couple of used books stores ago, the number is higher now. One question: do you also count those thin volumes in the “Jazyky narodov Azii i Afriki”?

  13. Re: “Meanwhile it perversely insists on breaking the single language Serbocroatian down into Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian, so that I have to decide for each book how to file it […]”
    I thought that “Serbian” was the term for Serbocroatian written using the Cyrillic alphabet, while “Croatian” was the term for Serbocroatian written using the Latin alphabet?

  14. Now how on Earth did “Moderní Perská Frazeologie a Konversace” reach your shores?
    It didn’t—I reached its. (Why, of course Bohemia has a seacoast; don’t you read Shakespeare?) I was several days into a stay in Prague (a trip I recommend to everyone—it’s a glorious city) and had determined not to buy any more books, because I wasn’t sure I could fit the ones I already had into my luggage. So when I saw this book in a little antikvariát in Mala Strana I fell in love with it but reluctantly set it back on the table. But the proprietor saw the light in my eyes and wouldn’t let me not buy it; he kept reducing the price until I finally gave in and pulled out my wallet. (I still have no idea how I got everything back.)
    I thought that “Serbian” was the term for Serbocroatian written using the Cyrillic alphabet, while “Croatian” was the term for Serbocroatian written using the Latin alphabet?
    No, it’s not that simple: either can be written in either alphabet (though in practice Croatian was hardly ever written in Cyrillic). The differentiation is a matter of vowels and a few lexical items, not writing systems. In any case, it’s absurd to call them different languages, but we live in an absurd world.

  15. Does the mania show up early? If you play the firstbook tag game, do any of them have second language fields?
    To be realistic for those of us that grew up in a monolingual culture, it probably has to be the first book(s) you bought with your saved up allowance or something like that.

  16. “Miscellaneous languages” is an interesting option, because there’s an “… (Other)” for each of the language families and/or geographical areas. Per the MARC standard, it’s used for ones like Etruscan, Hurrian, and the Indus Script. I think it’s the right choice for Linear A, although that isn’t mentioned. I was using it for crazy occult angel / space-alien languages, but now see the standard lists Enochian under Artificial (Other), along with loglan (and lojban). Isn’t that being a spoil-sport, though?

  17. John Emerson says

    If Danish and Norwegian can be three languages (Danish, nynorsk, and bokmal), it seems to me that Bosni-Serbo-Croatian can too.

  18. Sure, but for Norwegian they give the option of plain old Norwegian as well as the flavored varieties. For Serbo, you have to pick one of the flavors.

  19. Most of the languages that a librarian might typically encounter seem to be listed, along with the code to use, even if we might disagree with the generality / specificity of that code. With the obvious exception of Serbocroation. So, it’s pretty clear that the authors felt that there was a minefield here.
    But they couldn’t do a good enough job of hiding their tracks. The code for Croatian is scr. And that’s what a Srpskohrvatsko-engleski rečnik listing has. Not that I’m recommending that particular one, mind you.

  20. “Also, the menu doesn’t include Dari (the variant of Persian spoken in Afghanistan) or Sicilian (they have a listing for Sardinian, for Pete’s sake!”
    Hat, are you saying that if they treat Sardinian as a separate language, you would expect them to do that with Sicilian too? That would surprise me. Sardinian has long been considered a branch of its own in the Romance family; Sicilian certainly is quite different from Tuscan, but Italianists are not as keen on inflating the number of languages spoken in Italy as their counterparts who work on Spain.
    I must admit that I have no clue how many books are published every year in Sicilian or in Sardinian, but from a linguistic point of view it makes sense to me to lump Sicilian with Italian, but not Sardinian.
    About Serbo-Croatian: it’s sad that a standard language that had an established name and was a reality for most of its speakers is being broken up from the very region where it originated. Vuk Karadzic based his standard on the varieties spoken in Bosnia, and nowadays many Bosnians insist that they speak Bosnian. I don’t blame them – there are Croats and Serbs who make an effort to use words that prove that they speak “Croatian” or “Serbian” too. If I was a muslim in Bosnia, I wouldn’t want to choose between those two either. But I would find it silly to break up a language that has dialects like all languages do based on political boundaries. The dialects coincide only very roughly with the political entities.
    I have a feeling that this would not have happened if Serbo-Croatian had been given a different name in Tito’s days – say, “Yugoslavic”, which was what many Germans called it. (False analogy: if Hungarians speak Hungarian and Bulgarians speak Bulgarian, then obviously Yugoslavs speak Yugoslavic.) Of course that wouldn’t have been accurate and it might have offended some people in Slovenia and Macedonia, but the linguistic reality in the SFRJ was that almost everyone knew Serbo-Croatian. All males who had served in the military did.

  21. michael farris says

    “I have a feeling that this would not have happened if Serbo-Croatian had been given a different name in Tito’s days – say, “Yugoslavic”,”
    I kind of agree, but too late now. I still like my idea of calling it Shtokavian (the basis of all three written standards IIRC).

  22. Is 110 “close to” 145? Haven’t counted for a few monts, but certainly not less than that.
    I use the classification system for Swedish public libraries, which is not too bad. But it has no code for Jaunsari.
    And it’s mostly dictionaries, grammars and other learning material. And there are few “books” to read in most of those languages. And there are few if any of those languages that I haven’t utilized even in, perhaps, a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances (thanks, Tom Lehrer). And I fully agree with Hat’s “Besides, one can use a language even if one can’t ‘read’ it.”. And did I tell you that Bible Hebrew is included?

  23. Not close enough to worry me. When you get towards 130, then I’ll start sweating…
    Actually, I’m sure somebody will pass me before long (probably Claire), but for the moment I’m enjoying the feeling of being Language King. (And of course mine are “mostly dictionaries, grammars and other learning material” too.)

  24. Jimmy Ho says

    Maybe I did not look in the right place, but Pontic (Ποντιακά) does not seem to be in the list (unless they classified it under Ρωμέικα, which I doubt).

  25. Oh, I’m sure it’s not. They’re pretty bad at non-official languages; if they don’t have Cantonese, they’re very unlikely to have Pontic. (Though they do, oddly, have Neapolitan Italian.)

  26. Jimmy Ho says

    Yes, I forgot the part in your post about Chinese dialects. Actually, they have “East Cretan Greek”. Reminds me of a couple of decades ago, when every Westerner knew about Cretan lyra, but it was impossible to mention our kemençe (Pontic lyra) without getting weird looks.

  27. East Cretan Greek?? I missed that. Hey, maybe I’ll change my copy of the Erotokritos to that! But was Kornaros from East Crete?

  28. Jimmy Ho says

    Well, yes, he was from Sitia, which is about the Northeastern edge of the island, but I don’t remember “Enetocratia” Cretan literature expert Stylianos Alexiou saying anything about his language as having notably “Eastern” features.
    Maybe translating Erotokritos (which I love for its beautiful language and its pre-Christian mythistorical setting; a philhellenic work, if there is one) into Pontic is all it takes to get MARC-ed.

  29. Jimmy Ho says

    Think of it, the last verse are all about localisation:
    ΒΙΤΣΕΝΤΖΟΣ είν’ ο ποιητής και στη γενειά ΚΟΡΝΑΡΟΣ,
    που να βρεθεί ακριμάτιστος, σα να τον πάρει ο Χάρος.
    Στη Στείαν εγεννήθηκε, στη Στείαν ενεθράφη,
    εκεί ‘καμε κ’ εκόπιασεν ετούτα που σας γράφει.
    Στο Κάστρον επαντρεύτηκε σαν αρμηνεύγει η φύση,
    το τέλος του έχει να γενή όπου ο θεός όριση.

  30. Jimmy Ho says

    Verse 2:
    σα να τον πάρη ο Χάρος
    (for consistency).

  31. Lovely!

  32. I’m enjoying the feeling of being Language King.
    Perhaps you should change your screen name to “Language Crown.”

  33. Mayaxenia says

    I would like to expatiate more on Shaki’s little gift to Persian-lovers and deplore the lack of similar books for Arabic and Ottoman, but let me do something else, more timely.
    Trick question: What language do post-Yugos from mixed marriages speak? (For that matter, what do the folks in Vojvodina, or Montenegro, or the Sandjak of Novi Pazar speak? etc. etc. One man from Bosnia even declared his house and courtyard to be a separate state, but let us not go there)

  34. Mayaxenia says

    My atheist father is a Bosnian-Orthodox (since the nineteenth c. defined as “Serbian”), my nationalist mother is Bosnian-Catholic (eo ipso “Croatian”) and all my aunts and cousins married Bosnian Muslims, so with Germans I usually define myself, when I must, as a serbokroatische Bosnierin (Serbo-Croat Bosnian).
    In Turkey, the game takes a different twist, since here I have become a Bosnak (meaning a Muslim, as in the English Bosniac), but my native language is usually defined as Sirpca.
    The diasporan communities now prefer the vague and non-offensive term “nas jezik” (our language), which of course would sound funny from the lips of a non-native speaker.
    A propos Andric: he was mostly a lib. (in the nineteenth c. sense of the term), so we can define him as more or less a Yugoslav living in Belgrade. His family was originally Bosnian Catholic (hence, “Croatian”). His language is a strange artifact, as the expression is idiomatic and clearly Bosnian, but it is Ekavian rather than Ijekavian (thus he wrote mleko, dete instead of mlijeko and dijete). In “Bridge”, the impalement of the peasant Radovan is usually seen as pro-Serbian propaganda, but those who argue in that manner miss the descriptions of intense pain experienced by other characters in the novel, and Andric’s empathy with them, be they Muslim (Abidaga) or Jewish (Lota). Andric’s early academic work is indeed imbued with Viennese orientalism, but in his literary, later works he tends to idealize Muslim cultures as places that taught him about silence and wisdom in general.
    Generally, I think he viewed his Balkanite existence as clearly inferior to civilized Central Europeans, which reduces his stature in my eyes more than anything else he said or did.
    I wish I were Irish, Egyptian, or Korean, so I did not have take a deep breath and pontificate. At least I would be able to give a simple, nice answer when they ask me where I am from in language classes.

  35. Mayaxenia says

    BTW, my first few attempts to post the comment failed due to “questionable content”. After some bewilderment, I shortened the word lib-e-ral and excised another sentence which referred to our so-called soc-ia-lism. Are they indeed being filtered? Wow.

  36. Thank you very much for that wise and well-informed comment. It must be very difficult having to deal with that mess of history and mutual misunderstanding. In America, we prefer oblivion to trying to deal with the complexities of the world.

  37. Oh, what you ran into was the ban on the word “cialis.” I’ve just removed it; blocking both specialist and socialist was too high a price to pay. Thanks for providing the final impetus.

  38. Mayaxenia says

    Well, I am glad you appreciated the comments!
    In the US, when I say I am Bosnian, the tendency for about 50% of people is to respond: “Oh, you’re from Boston!”
    Must be the stress on the first syllable… So, usually I don’t bother to explain all the Yugo stuff, unless I see people are genuinely curious and not just polite.
    One or two final details re Serbocroatian: In the school context, you can imagine it was cumbersome for student to always pronounce all the syllables (srpskohrvatski), so the common way to do it, in Bosnia at least, consisted in saying: /es-ha/ lessons, from the initial s and h.
    Also, again at least in Bosnia, once they taught us the two scripts, we had to write essays every week, alternating the scripts, so one week it was the Latin alphabet and next week the Cyrillic. The first one or two years it did not seem to matter, but later on urban kids, who were usually studying German or English (rarely French), would complain about the Cyrillic script, whereas many rural kid s had to take Russian (which was often derided) so they were sometimes more adroit with the Cyrillic.
    My own parents, although they were crazy about Russian literature and had the complete works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevski right above their bed, did everything they could so I would not be placed in a Russian class! Later, they also resisted my desire to learn it, buying me books to study Romance languages, Dutch, whatever else was there, but no Russian.
    I’ve tried to learn it later many times, but it is like knowing Spanish and trying to learn Italian — I can read Russian fluently, but in speech, I completely mangle it. It is somewhat depressing though — I’ve never taken a class in it and it’s always more transparent to me than Arabic, which I have been studying professionally for the last decade!

  39. That’s really sad about the Russian. I can completely understand why people living under the constant threat of the imperial bootheel, the source of the wretched Titoist system (even if Tito had carved out a little more space for Yugoslavia than the other “fraternal socialist nations” enjoyed), wouldn’t want their daughter studying the language, but what a shame!
    Again, thanks for the details of how the alphabets were alternated, and I love the Bosnian = Bostonian thing.

  40. michael farris says

    The alternating alphabet thing was interesting. Do Bosnians follow the more Croat habit of preserving non-Yugoslav names in their original forms or do they respell them as in Serbian?
    And interestingly, when I began working at a Polish university students were forced to take Russian (two years I think) and it was _extremely_ unpopular.
    After it was dropped as a compulsory subject it started to gain some popularity and is now one of the most popular choices as a required four year minor sequence (the students choose the language they start and can’t really change after the first year) only Spanish and maybe Japanese are more popular. A section or two of completely optional classes was also added per student request.

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