Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

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Harper Collins, Jun 28, 2005 - History - 640 pages
12 Reviews

The story of the world in the last five thousand years is above all the story of its languages. Some shared language is what binds any community together and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it.

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 first to bring together the tales in all their glorious variety: the amazing innovations in education, culture, and diplomacy devised by speakers of Sumerian and its successors in the Middle East, right up to the Arabic of the present day; the uncanny resilience of Chinese through twenty centuries of invasions; the charmed progress of Sanskrit from north India to Java and Japan; the engaging self-regard of Greek; the struggles that gave birth to the languages of modern Europe; and the global spread of English.

Besides these epic ahievements, language failures are equally fascinating: Why did German get left behind? Why did Egyptian, which had survived foreign takeovers for three millennia, succumb to Mohammed's Arabic? Why is Dutch unknown in modern Indonesia, though the Netherlands had ruled the East Indies for as long as the British ruled India?

As this book splendidly and authoritatively reveals, the language history of the world shows eloquently the real character of peoples; and, for all the recent tehnical mastery of English, nothing guarantees our language's long-term preeminence. The language future, like the language past, will be full of surprises.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - krista.rutherford - LibraryThing

If you, like me, are interested in linguistics and big-picture world history, this is the book. Looking at the history of world powers not in terms of political boundaries but of groups defined by ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - DinadansFriend - LibraryThing

I think this a superior production, and Mr. Ostler seems to know his business. There are even some hints about how a tongue can connive towards its own longevity. Read full review

Contents

THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE HISTORY
5
What It Takes to Be a World Language or You Never Can Tell
18
LANGUAGES BY LAND
27
Egyptian and Chinese
113
Whys and wherefores
149
Foreign relations
158
Chinese unsettled
167
The Cultured Career of Sanskrit
174
The First Death of Latin
315
LANGUAGES BY SEA
323
Spanish in the New World
331
Europes Languages Abroad
380
Microcosm or Distorting Mirror? The Career of English
456
LANGUAGES TODAY AND TOMORROW
523
notes
561
bibliography
579

The Adventures of Greek
227
Celt Roman German and Slav
272
index
591
Copyright

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About the author (2005)

A scholar with a working knowledge of twenty-six languages, Nicholas Ostler has degrees from Oxford University in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics, and a Ph.D. in linguistics from MIT, where he studied under Noam Chomsky. He lives in Bath, England.

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