Language Books: Home Library Arrangement

April 11, 2021

If you really love books, you may have accumulated a large collection of them. It can be frustrating when you’re wanting to find a particular one but have trouble tracking it down. You’re pretty sure you have it, but it’s lost among all the others.

In an earlier post, I outlined the advantages of using the Dewey Decimal Classification system for organizing your nonfiction books. If you have a lot of nonfiction print books in your collection, you might want to read that first.

400s Language

As with the religion section, the language section’s classification scheme may be irritating for some readers. Perhaps the most surprising thing to modern readers is that the majority of the classification numbers are devoted to languages of European origin.

Melvil Dewey created his system in the 1850s. As a male American librarian from that period in history, he had societal and personal biases. His worldview was Western-culture dominant.  Dewey had no way of knowing how many subjects in his system, including religion and languages, would gain or lose prominence, even in America and Europe in the coming centuries.

If you are annoyed by this section and would like to come up with your own, please feel free to. Your home collection is yours to do with as you’d like. But if you are simply wanting to get your books sorted in a primary fashion, this post should help you determine where to place your language books.

400s     Language

Rather than explaining most of these divisions, I will make lists of languages that belong within them. These lists are nowhere near exhaustive.

These topics are covered for each language in the divisions following it:

  • Writing systems
  • Phonology
  • Phonetics
  • Etymology
  • Dictionaries
  • Grammar
  • Historical and geographical variations
  • Standard Usage (Prescriptive linguistics)

400-409     Language

Books that belong in 400-409 are the general language books. Interdisciplinary works go here, as do international languages. Think of this as the “language umbrella” category.

Some recommended books:

  • Unruly Words: A Study of Vague Language by Diana Raffaman
  • The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

410-419     Linguistics

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It aims to describe language as it actually is used, not as it should be used.  Books on the philosophy and theory of ancient languages like Indo-European and their writing systems go in linguistics.

Recommended books:

  • Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper
  • Syntactic Structures by Noam Chomsky
  • American Sign Language: A Comprehensive Dictionary, unabridged edition (check) by Marin L. A. Sternberg first published in 1981. Check for the most recent edition.

420-429     English and Old English (Anglo-Saxon)

This division covers the English language as it is spoken in different areas of the world.  Old English, the language that brought us Beowulf is also shelved in this section.

430-439     German and related languages

The Germanic languages section covers Old High German to 1100; Middle High German and Early New High German 1100-1500; standard German; and other Germanic languages such as

  • Yiddish
  • Frisian
  • Plattdeutsch
  • Swedish
  • Danish
  • Norwegian
  • Icelandic
  • Faroese
  • Afrikaans
  • Dutch and Flemish

440-449     French and related Romance languages

The languages shelved here are Old French to 1400; Middle French 1400-1600; Modern French; and

  • Occitan
  • Catalan
  • Franco-Provencal

450-459     Italian, Romanian, and related Italic languages

The languages are Old Italian to 1300; Middle Italian 1300-1600; and Standard Italian, in addition, there is Romanian and

  • Dalmatian
  • Rhaetian
  • Sardinian
  • Corsican

460-469     Spanish, Portuguese, Galician

This division includes Old Spanish to 1100; Middle Spanish 1100-1600; Standard Spanish; Galician; Old Portuguese to 1100; Middle Portuguese 1100-1600; pidgins, and creoles.

470-479     Latin and related Italic languages

These include classical Latin and Vulgar Latin, as well as Old Latin (Pre-classical Latin).

480-489     Classical Greek and related Hellenic languages

This division is for Classical Greek which flourished between 750 and 350 B.C.E., as well as pre-classical and postclassical Greek, and Modern Greek.

490-490     Other languages

Take a deep breath.

We are about to dive into a very abbreviated list of every other language that has ever been spoken, signed, or written–on the entire planet.

Most specific language categories are listed here, though by no means all. A very few individual languages in some categories are also mentioned. But please be aware, that if a language was not included in 420-480, it has a place here.

Specific languages in east Indo-European and Celtic language families:

  • Sanskrit
  • Iranian languages
  • Baltic languages
  • modern Prakrit

Modern Indo-Aryan languages:

  •  Sindhi
  • Lahnda
  • Punjabi

Russian and related east Slavic languages:

  • Ukrainian
  • Belarusian

Slavic languages:

  • Bulgarian
  • Serbian
  • Croatian
  • Bosnian

Afro-Asiatic languages:

  • Hebrew
  • Arabic
  • Maltese

Non-Semitic Afro-Asiatic languages:

  • Egyptian
  • Coptic
  • Berber
  • Cushitic

Altaic, Uralic, Hyperborean, Dravidian languages:

  • Karen
  • Tibetan
  • Burmese

African languages:

  • Khoisan
  • Niger-Congo
  • Nilo-Saharan
  • Chari-Nile

North American native languages:

  • Inuit
  • Algonquian
  • Uto-Aztecan
  • Siouan
  • Iroquoian

South American native languages:

  • Chibchan
  • Paez
  • Aymaran
  • Jivaroan
  • Tupi
  • Carib

Non-Austronesian languages of Oceania, Austronesian languages, and miscellaneous languages:

  • Harrian
  • Basque
  • Elamite
  • Etruscan
  • Sumerian
  • Caucasic
  • Malagasy
  • Polynesian languages

You’ve organized your language collection

How many non-English languages were represented? Youtube has videos demonstrating many of these languages, including the ones that are no longer spoken.

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