The Languages of Languagehat


All my adult life I have been asked “How many languages do you speak?” I used to start off “Well, I’m reasonably fluent in English; I speak and read French and Spanish pretty well, although the latter has deteriorated…” and continue until eyes glazed over. Then I decided to just say “13” and see if anyone wanted details. Now I can refer all comers to this page. First, as quick reference, a list of languages in which I can claim some ability, in descending order of knowledge: Speaking/reading: English [thanks to Teep for the heads-up!], French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, German, Greek (ancient and modern, but the claim of speaking ability applies only to the latter), Persian (Farsi) Reading only: Other Romance languages (including Latin), other Germanic languages, South Slavic languages Languages I have studied and could recover but which are not actively available at the moment: Georgian, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Swahili.


I have an entire bookcase filled (and double-shelved) with language books; while it would be madness to try to list them all, I will provide the languages I have reference books for, pretty much in the order they occur on the shelves (by families, IE first); D = one or more big dictionaries (ie, medium-sized or larger), d = one or more small dictionaries (I will usually omit these if there is a D), G = grammar(s) (including, eg, Teach Yourself books). For those who are familiar with a given language and might be curious, I will identify some of the major dictionaries thus: Serbo-Croatian D (Benson). Hittite G, Albanian GD, Armenian Gd, Sanskrit GD (Monier-Williams), Urdu GD (Platts), Bengali GD (Samsad, Litton [Russian-Bengali]), Gujarati G, Romany/Romanes GD, Persian GD (Haim, Gaffarov, Voskanyan), Dari G, Tajik d, Kurdish Gd, Pashto/Pushtu D (Aslanov), Sariqoli d (Pakhalina), Old Irish G, Modern Irish GD, Scots Gaelic GD, Middle Welsh G, Gothic Gd, Old Norse G, Norwegian GD (Haugen), Dutch GD, Afrikaans d, Danish d, Old High German G, German GD, Swiss German G, Yiddish GD (Weinreich), Old English GD, Scots D (Robinson), Latin GD (Oxford), Vulgar Latin G (Grandgent), Italian D, Neapolitan D (Altamura), Romagnol G, Sicilian G, Spanish GD, Ladino D (Kohen), Portuguese GD, Catalan GD (Routledge — oddly, nowhere on or in this excellent dictionary is there any indication of who compiled it!), Romanian GD, French GD, Haitian Creyol G, Ancient Greek GD (LSJ), Modern Greek GD, Old Church Slavic G, Russian GD (see below), Ukrainian Gd, Czech GD, Sorbian d, Polish d, Slovene GD (Komac), Serbo-Croatian GD (Benson), Bulgarian Gd, Lithuanian GD, Latvian d, Akkadian G, Arabic GD (Larousse, Wehr, Steingass), Maltese Gd, Hebrew Gd, Amharic GD (Zekaria), Hungarian GD (Orszagh), Finnish d, Estonian d, Turkish Gd, Tatar d, Uzbek d, Kyrkyz d, Tuvinian d, Malay/Indonesian Gd, Tagalog Gd, Hawaiian d, Malagasy D (Korneev), Mandarin Chinese GD (Mathew), Cantonese GD (Aubazac), Japanese GD, Vietnamese GD (Hoa), Burmese G, Thai D (Haas), Lao G, Cambodian d, Tamil D (Andropov), Fulani/Fulfulde/Pulaar GD (Niang), Hausa GD (Awde), Twi G, Akan-Eue-Ga d, Igbo d, Yoruba Gd, Swahili GD (Johnson-Madan), Luganda d, Sesotho/Sotho Gd, Bemba d, Lingala d, Xhosa d, Zulu GD (Doke-Vilakazi), Somali d, Navajo d, Menomini G, Guarani G, Basque GD (Aulestia-White), Georgian GD (Tschenkeli) I can’t resist listing my main Russian dictionaries separately — I’ve spent so much time, energy, and money amassing them and they give me so much pleasure: Dahl (3rd ed. 1903-9, 4 vol.), Makaroff (11th ed. 1908, Russian-French), Golovinsky (reprint of a Russian-English dictionary apparently done in the 1920s using the old orthography), Oxford, Katzner, Penguin, Harper-Collins, good old Ozhegov, Prokhorov’s Bol’shoi entsyklopedicheskiy slovar’, 1997, and — my most recent, acquired at Brighton Beach’s Belye Nochi bookstore — the New Great Russian-English Dictionary (3 vol., 1997, “about 300,000 lexical units”). Not to mention various slang, geographical, and etymological (Vasmer, Berneker) dictionaries…