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Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word is the first history of the world’s great tongues, gloriously celebrating the wonder of words that binds communities together. Nicholas Ostler is a British scholar and author. Ostler studied at Balliol College, Oxford, where His book Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World documents the spread of language throughout recorded human history. Yet the history of the world’s great languages has been very little told. Empires of the Word, by the wide-ranging linguist Nicholas Ostler, is the.

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Elsewhere the climate, less condign, discouraged European farmers with their temperate crops and lack of malaria-resistance.

Apart from the loss of potentially valuable diversity and the lessons about the human mind that will be lost with these languages and their associated conceptual frameworks, this highlights that a handful of languages have expanded or persisted across continents and millennia. The top 20 global languages – defined in terms of their use as a first or second language – provide an interesting reflection on the fortunes of those languages that have spread by micholas growth and those that have expanded by means of empirrs and acquisitions.

Nicholas Ostler – Wikipedia

Even English as the world science language may fail to save it, because science appeals to a small minority of speakers.

The story focuses on the rise, spread, and dominance of Latin, both among other languages of the Italian peninsula in the early part of the 1st millennium BC and among the languages of Western Europe in the Dark Ages and beyond, presenting the life of Latin as any biographer would present the life of his subject. Hell, I’m not sure I’m that interested in the subject matter, and I happily read a whole book about the alphabet.

This is a richly detailed work that goes through the rise and fall of more than a dozen of the world’s most influential languages while investigating the factors involved in their growth and death. Somewhat as a side effect, it affords language enthusiasts an unconventional and highly enjoyable approach to the most remarkable historical events of the world. Not a fun book, nor an easy book, and not well edited.

History teaches us that the future will always be shaped in large part by the unexpected and nichllas unknowable: This is a history of languages which have left written works or records – how and why they spread or went into decline, what causes languages to become dominant and so on.


The distinctive traits of various languages and how they are central to the formation of societies and their role in defining their cultures. No trivia or quizzes yet. Lf did discuss how they came from the north, and never really took hold, but he didn’t really discuss how they started in the north in the first place. There is Greek, whose fortunes were tied only loosely to Greek civilisation and empirea somehow managed to hitch a ride on the Roman empire and become, as the prestige language of learning, an integral part of that historical era too.

The arrival of the Spanish on the new continent represented a confrontation of peoples separated by tens of thousands of years of independent development and resulted in truly massive loss of native population probably in the million range at its height due to smallpox, typhus, influenza, diphtheria and measles.

The Adventures of Greek. Ostlre see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Review: Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler | Books | The Guardian

Empires of the Word: Ostler gives four main reasons why an imperial language lives on after empores empire disappears. And then there is Chinese. Please provide an email address. Chinese history is an exemplar of exceptionalism and the Chinese language entirely conforms to this pattern. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Retrieved from ” https: While Chinese encompasses a series of other non-mutually intelligible languages e.

The advance of the Arabic language was not really ‘lightning fast’ to the West – Ostler says that Coptic was the main language in Upper Egypt as late as the 14th century, and Berber was the main mother tongue in the Maghrib even longer – and the urban centres that were Arabised first were the places where non-Afro-Asiatic languages would have been strongest.

But a stunning achievement nonetheless.


As in business, it is evident that merger and acquisition can outpace organic growth. That said, the book was also an excellent overview of world history and I think I have a better sense of the order of certain events than before.

Ostler traces the histories of these languages as their civilizations followed the turns of the Nile River from the Old Kingdom to the Late Period and those of Huang-he and Yangtze Kiang from the feudal period to the Song dynasty.

From the uncanny resilience of Chinese through twenty centuries of invasions to the engaging self-regard of Greek and to the struggle Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word is the first history of the world’s great tongues, gloriously celebrating the wonder of words that binds communities together and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it.


How did French become a prestige language? Codified 2, years ago and barely changed since, this was a language that took great pleasure in its own beauty, which was intimately bound up with an Indian worldview, but which was ultimately to ossify em;ires such an extent that today, although still an official language of India, it is spoken by fewer thanpeople.

Provides a clear picture why a language becomes widely used.

While classical Greek was picked up for study during the Rennaisance, it had lost its place as a lingua franca to Latin. Retrieved 21 January There are no discussion topics on this book yet. For all the hubris about the rise of English and how it will rule the world’s tongues for ever, it is sobering to reflect on why languages that in their day seemed utterly irresistible in their dominance and prestige, spoken across large regions of the world for thousands of years, were eventually eclipsed.

I personally find language history and usage fascinating nerd alertso maybe not everyone will find this book as cool as I did, but this was one of those books where I learned something new on basically every page and enjoyed doing it.

While Indian linguistics was aimed at preserving the details of religious texts through formal analyses of grammar and phonology, Greek linguistics was applied to the effective use of language for persuasion e.

Half a dozen spiritual revelations have offered themselves as universal truths in the past years, and most of them are still in contention. Why do people learn some languages more easily than others? So while it was quite fascinating, it was not a good book to read when I was even a little sleepy.

Speaking of tongues

I wonder, if we look at popular speech in a few years, or possibly even now, will we not see certain changes that are a direct result of email, instant messaging, and especially text messaging? His book Empires of the Word: This enables it to overrun others. The classic mode of language growth in the new European era was by means of military conquest: The book concentrates on those languages that have been – in some form or another – globally influential: His book Ad Infinitum: It tackles some of the big questions: Could it become fragmented like Latin or be made redundant as a lingua franca by automatic translation?