When I was on a trip to Vienna, I stayed with a friend (a fellow translator) who had a wonderful book collection. I didn’t have time to read them all, unfortunately (I’m hoping she invites me back so I can!), but I did read Biting the Wax Tadpole by Elizabeth Little. The title is entertaining, as is the whole book. Basically, it’s a light romp around the world’s languages in 200 pages.
Ms. Little’s book is about grammar and how it works in different languages. She claims (or admits, it’s hard to tell which!) that she isn’t very good at learning languages, but she does enjoy thinking about how grammar works around the world. Among other things, she writes about the 18 cases in Hungarian and the 17 in Basque and she discusses deponent verbs (i.e. verbs that look passive but are actually active). She gives examples from Swedish, Sami, Swahili, Khmer, Tibetan, Hausa, Tlingit, German, Ngiti, and many other languages in order to show what is similar or different among the many languages and their grammar.
My one complaint is the lack of a bibliography, but nevertheless, it was enjoyable for me to read one chilly night in Vienna.
21 hours ago