Books: Passport to Languages

THE MOTHER TONGUE by Lancelot Hogben. 294 pages. Norton. $7.50.

The word is cat in English. In Danish and Dutch it is kat, in Swedish katt, in German katze, in French chat, in Spanish and Portuguese gato, in Italian gatto, in Russian kot, and in Gaelic cat. Such striking linguistic similarities, which occur profusely throughout the Babel of the world, defy coincidence. They suggest that someone who knows one language need never walk blindfold through the labyrinth of a related tongue.

In fact, the 132 languages of the Indo-European family, among them most of the voices of Europe, flowered from the same...

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