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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History is a lot more fascinating when viewed through the spread of various languages and cultures. The impact varied enormously from continent to continent, country to country. As this example suggests, the most important way in which the invader language usually took root was through the migration of settlers from the imperial centre: Three hundred years after the Germanic invasions, Latin dialects had stopped being mutually intelligible to a large extent.

Retrieved from ” https: When Buddhism made incholas way into the country in the first millenium AD some osfler few— concepts were uncharacteristically borrowed from Sanskrit. View all 6 comments. Lists with This Book. He lives in Bath, England. By way of contrast, French, which until the early 20th century was, with English, the global language of choice, albeit with rather more prestige, now lingers in ninth place in the table, with a mere million speakers – little more than half the number of Bengali speakers, and just above Urdu.

EMPIRES OF THE WORD by Nicholas Ostler | Kirkus Reviews

Sumerian as the first classical language i. All in all a very rounded book that walks the reader at a reasonable pace through a very complex landscape and manages to convey a lot of information about it. The very empiress of being able to write enables a culture to take on a sense of itself across time and space.

But which languages, a millennium from now, will still be prospering, which will be the dominant global languages, and which will be the lingua franca? There is Latin itself, which ultimately failed to outlive the imperium and which slowly transmuted into the vernacular Romance languages.


Always challenging, always instructive—at times, even startling or revolutionary.

Speaking of tongues

The answers seem to have less to do with the unique qualities of the language than you might think, and less to do with military or commercial dominance. Higher education History books Language reviews. And because I am fascinated with language and linguistics, I’m very glad I persevered and finished the book. Phoenician did not catch on, proving that commerce alone is no guarantee of preserving a language.

Linguists from the United Kingdom Living people births.

Not in anything major enough, anyway. It nicholqs quite telling of this division between Hinduism and Islam that the largest and most wide-spread language in India today goes under two names: British scholar Ostler chair of the Foundation for Endangered Languages notes that there are as many as 7, language communities in the world, but many have relatively few speakers, and many have no written form.

View all 3 comments. The hearth and not the battlefield was where language victories were won or lost. What are the forces that might weaken the current hegemony of English around the world?

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 empres, instant messaging, and especially text messaging?

Jul 29, Wanda nicholzs it liked it Shelves: This book also tells about the first cracks in the language barrier: 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. Why did German get left behind?

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

With this book, Ostler provides a strong argument against the label ‘dead language’ so often assigned to Latin. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. A culture which can write can send orders for spices across oceans and orders to march across continents.


The classic mode of language growth in the new European era was by means of military conquest: Empires of the Word: There are 6,odd languages in the world, grouped into a hierarchy of families, with possibly half in danger of extinction within a generation or two.

This need not have been necessarily so, since this is less about linguistics and more a history of languages and their associated cultures and traditions, and while that’s also something I may be a fan of, it could get tiresome when one ancient empire after another is examined without an encompassing look. The First Death of Latin: Then Ostler tells us about the spread of Sanskrit through South-East Asia, which was not of military origin but rather came about due to a combination of trade, piratical raids and a desire to share a religious faith—the architecture of Shwe Dagon in Burma, Borobodur in Java and Angkor Wat in Cambodia bears witness to the Indian genius; and through Central and eastern Asia in its Pali variant driven by the egalitarian Buddhism—a curious effect is empiires be found in the Japanese syllabaries which follow the phonetically-inspired order of the letters in Indian alphabets.

Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word is the first history of if 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.

Nnicholas book Empires of the Word: Sep 06, Alesa rated it it was amazing.

But when you’re nearing the end of a book encompassing several millennia of history involving countless nations roaming the world and building themselves global empires, suddenly, this one guy’s similar ambitions don’t seem quite so unusual.

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