Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Illustrated Book of Sayings

Title:  The Illustrated Book of Sayings
Publication Information:  Ten Speed Press. 2016. 112 pages.
ISBN:  1607749335 / 978-1607749332

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Welcome to the logophiles and the linguists, to those who speak one language and to those who speak in many tongues, to the older and the younger, to those with high expectations and even higher dress, to those who don't know quite where they are yet, to those who have picked up this book not knowing quite what it is..."

Favorite Quote:  "We cast our line  into the blue depths of the languages that we know, hoping to catch the right words, and reel them back into our heads so that we might be able to unfold a situation or happening with understanding and insight."

The Illustrated Book of Sayings is a collection of over 50 idioms from languages around the world. Translated literally, many of them make no sense. However, most have counterparts in English and in other languages. In other words, the translated words may not make sense, but the thought does.

Each word in this book is discussed on two pages. Each discussion includes:
  • Idiom in phonetic English and sometimes in its language or origin
  • Literal English translation
  • Short note that explains the idiom, the history of why the words make sense, its counterparts in English and other languages, and sometimes additional idioms from that language
  • Colorful illustration
I wish that this book included two more things. First, I wish I could hear the sayings being spoken. I realized that is an impossibility in a physical book, but perhaps some online resources in addition to the book could be made available. The book includes the text, phonetic transliteration as appropriate, and a translation but I would love to hear the phrase pronounced because, after all, we communicate meaning through more than just the words.

Second, the book includes some but not all the expressions written in their language of origin. I am not sure why only some are included. So many languages use a script completely different than English. It would be wonderful to be able to enjoy all the written languages. I do wonder if some of the languages have only an oral tradition, but that is not explained in the book.

The fonts and colorful illustrations give the book the look of a picture book, which is a delightful way of sharing languages with a child. However, this book has so much more substance than a picture book. It is definitely a book for adults, but lends itself to being easily shared with children, even young children.

The range of languages in this book is also delightful. The book has words from commonly recognized languages such as Arabic, Italian, and Spanish. It also has words from remote, little known languages. For example, Ga is the name of a tribe and its language. Igbo is an official language of Nigeria. Latvian is a Baltic language that can trace its roots to languages in existence around 3500 B.C. What a delightful introduction to the linguistic history and variety in our world.

What I find most fascinating are the commonalities found. Most of the expressions in the book describe concepts rather than an object; words for concrete objects typically have a one-for-one translation between languages.  Here, the words themselves though capture a cultural history; references to things like sauerkraut, blowing wind, horses, and tigers are rooted in the history of a place. Most of the references come from the natural world, leading back to the idea in the introduction that we use the world around us to explain that we cannot find the words for.

Many of the concepts illustrated are emotions, which makes sense because after all feelings are sometimes the hardest thing in the world to put into words. The expressions don't directly translate from one language to another, but the ideas translate across languages. Different languages have their own version of a particular idiom, illustrating the universality of emotions and thought. In other words, there is more that unites us than divides us.

This book makes a great gift for anyone who loves words and language. It's definitely got a permanent place on my bookshelf.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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