Vietnamese among world’s 20 most-widely spoken hinh anh 1The book "Babel: Around the World in 20 Languages" is the work of author Gaston Dorren, a Dutch linguist (Photo: Nha Nam)

Hanoi (VNA) - The book "Babel: Around the world in 20 languages" published by Nha Nam is the work of author Gaston Dorren, a Dutch linguist.

He concurs with the conventional wisdom that there's about 6,000 different tongues in the world today. Trying to write about every single language would be a fool's errand, of course, so in this book, Dorren sets out to describe the 20 languages with the most speakers worldwide.

In the first chapter of the book, linguist Gaston Dorren writes about Vietnamese, the language of more than 95 million speakers.

He tried for more than a year to learn before admitting defeat. It has six tones, which change the meaning of a word completely, nine diacritics and multiple pronouns reflecting gender and degrees of respect: “Vietnamese text consists of deeply alien, impenetrable gatherings of one to six letters, which have to be learnt by rote,” Gaston Dorren told the Guardian.

Vietnamese among world’s 20 most-widely spoken hinh anh 2Linguist Gaston Dorren (Photo courtesy of Gaston)

With no less than 9 different diacritics (á, à, à, ã, â, ă, đ, ô and ơ), Vietnamese is a language for people with delicate eyes. These diacritics are essential to ensure correct pronunciation, but they also burden people’s memory. Verb conjugation, the challenge of most languages in Europe seems nothing compared to Vietnamese."

The book was first published in English in 2018. The daily Guardian said the book is a fascinating guide and a celebration of linguistic diversity and bilingualism.
According to the Book of Genesis", the first book of the Old Testament Bible, at the beginning, when people still spoke the same language, people together built the Tower of Babel with the desire to reach heaven. Seeing the Tower of Babel grow taller, God prevented it by creating many different languages, causing language differences, preventing people from cooperating as easily as before. The Tower of Babel becomes a tower representing the diversity of human languages.

Counting how many languages there are in the world is incredibly difficult. Gaston Dorren points out that there are about 6,000 different tongues in the world today with an average of one language in every 1.25 million people.

Unlike a boring scholarly book, "Babel: Around the World in 20 Languages" is receptive, even to readers who have no background in linguistics. This is a book that is both fun and educational.

Each chapter begins with a brief profile of the languages in question: different names, language family, number of users, some grammar basics, pronunciation, and writing systems and information on borrowed words. Those numbers may still not be firmly grounded, as the language statistics are very erratic. The author said, he consulted many sources, synthesized statistics and took the average number for easy understanding, easy to remember.

Vietnamese among world’s 20 most-widely spoken hinh anh 3A version of the book in Polish (Photo:

Through the book, the author also expressed concern about the loss of many languages, leading to the loss of heritage elements and traditions of nations. From preliminary statistics, it can be confirmed that at least 75% of the people living on this planet can communicate in one of the twenty languages described in the book. The popularity of major languages is causing the decline of hundreds, even thousands, of smaller languages. This is a tragedy, when on every continent, the indigenous language is no longer used. It means the eradication of valuable knowledge encoded in words.

Gaston Dorren is a linguist and a true multilingual with the ability to speak Dutch, Limburg, English, German and Spanish, and also speaks French, Afrikaans, and Frisian languages. , Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Luxembourgish, and Esperanto./.