East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Languages of the Silk Road

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9781741046045_p0_v1_s260x420I was trying to bring back some order to my bookshelves yesterday afternoon, and as it usually happens, I stopped working because I started browsing the books I was supposedly moving around to clear some space.

From a box of assorted langage books popped out a small wonder I thought lost forever: my own copy of the Central Asia Phrasebook, by Lonely Planet.

A small paperback, this book packs in 240 pages a wide selection of essential phrases in Uyghur, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Pashto and Tajik, plus a very brief selection of Tashkorghani, Turkmen, Burushashki, Khowar, Kohistani, Mandarin, Mongolian, Russian, Shina and Wakhi.

I normally think of this sort of phrasebooks as a relic from the Victorian Age – and I do mean this as a compliment.
They speak of a more civilized age, one in which travel was a thing of the mind, and not only of the body. When you could flip out your handbook and fix a room in a hotel, give directions to your taxi driver, chat aboout the weather.

There is all that, in the Central Asia Phrasebook – general utility phrases, special boxouts with medical terms and a big selection of all-purpose phrases.
There’s also a lot of cultural observations, local customs, national festivals, assorted tips and other useful stuff.
Surprising, in such a small package.

I bought my copy back in the days when I was planning my TurinHong Kong train trip.
My project went nowhere, but this booklet is still highly useful – as a reminder of the variety of peoples and cultures along the Silk Road, as a tool when I write my stories and I want to drop some local color in the dialogue.

Finding it again – I thought it lost when I moved house – brought back memories.
Which is what old books will do for you – even phrasebooks.

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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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