When I looked at the 400s, it seemed a big chunk of the books were missing. Pretty much everything from 430 on. They had been there earlier when I had originally scoped out the library and considered the project before me, but now they were missing. A quick walk around the third floor solved the mystery: They had been segregated to a set of bookcases labeled “foreign languages.” This of course raises the question of what the point of having language text books in a library is in the first place—after all, even with renewals, that gives just nine weeks to learn a language, something that few, if any, books would be willing to promise. All of this is a question to be returned to later. The beginning of the 400s is more general linguistics and lives in the stacks of my library where you’d expect it to, between the 300s and the 500s.
The Last Speakers is part memoir and part account of what endangered languages are and why they matter. It’s a delicate balance to maintain, but Harrison manages to rise to the challenge.