There are people who like reading about languages. For all sorts of reasons. Some are interested in linguistics, some in a country where a certain tongue is spoken, some in simply broadening their knowledge. All they have to do is choose the right book. Which, sometimes, is not as simple as you think it is.
Finding a good publication on Pacific languages is rather difficult to do. Sure, there are a few specialist titles, but virtually all of them are aimed at readers who know a thing or two about linguistics. John Lynch’s book definitely stands out from this crowd, and that is why it deserves your attention.
This 359-page book has three major sections, which are further divided into several chapters and then sub-chapters. Part 1 constitutes a general introduction to the languages of the Pacific. It describes their geographical distribution and summarizes what is known of their history. Part 2 provides an overview of the phonological and grammatical structure of these languages, showing readers how they differ from each other as well as to what extent they are similar. Part 3 focuses on the social and cultural context, examining the relationship between Pacific cultures and their tongues.
The book also contains various tables, figures, and maps, which illustrate the author’s words; suggestions for further reading by chapter; appendices with data sources, phonetic symbols, sample phoneme systems, and glossary of technical terms; notes; references; and an alphabetical index.
Ease of use
This volume was created with people without a formal linguistic background in mind, so it is very accessible. John Lynch managed to combine scholarly insight with clear, intelligible language and easy style. Everything is so well explained that even those who possess absolutely no professional knowledge shouldn’t have any troubles understanding the chapters’ content. Of course, with such specific subject matter it is impossible to escape technical terms, but in this book they are kept to a minimum. Plus, the useful glossary offers simple definitions of the trickier words and ensures that the general reader is never overwhelmed by professional jargon.
Also worth noting is the way the sentence examples are presented. The first line (in italics) is the sentence in a Pacific language; the second line is a word-by-word and morpheme-by-morpheme translation; the third line (in single quotation marks) is the free English translation. Such form enhances lucidity and makes everything all the easier to comprehend.
The book is very easy to navigate, which is especially useful when the reader wants to quickly brush up on a particular topic or find an answer to a specific question. The chapters are not too long (great advantage), well-composed, and to the point – in other words, they are perfectly manageable even for those individuals who don’t have a lot of free time.
Would I recommend it?
Yes, I would. Absolutely! John Lynch wrote a very interesting and a very practical book, which – and this is extremely important – can be read by both linguists and non-linguists. Clearly the work of an enthusiast, this title provides the best introduction to Pacific languages you can imagine.
First and foremost, the volume is as detailed as possible. Taking into account that there are over eleven hundred languages in Oceania, creating such a comprehensive publication is no mean feat. I would say that the author went where no one had ever gone before. He aimed to write a general overview of the little-known Pacific tongues, and he did it with flying colours.
This book has literally everything a good book should have. It offers valuable insights, it’s easy to understand, and – most of all – it’s simply enjoyable to read. I like the fact that John Lynch didn’t try to create yet another technical publication that could be appreciated exclusively by linguistics professionals. This title – and I can assure you of this – is for everyone. Every single person with interest in the languages of Oceania should not only read it but have it in their collection. Such excellent work is worth it.
So, to sum up, if you were to buy only one book on the Pacific tongues, this ought to be your choice. You will not find anything better.