Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

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9780007118700: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

An unusual and authoritative 'natural history of languages' that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another in the past, and what it is about - say - Greek, Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese and English that has led to their supremacy at different times. If the history of languages has taught us anything, Nicholas Ostler argues, it is that no language - however populous its speakers, confident its culture and advanced its technology - has remained the linga franca indefinitely. As the technological and cultural dominance of America has consolidated the territorial achievements of the British Empire, the English language (aided by the predominantly Anglophone Internet) has apparently never had it so good. And yet the long-term dominance of English will inevitably, in due course, give way! Will the language split into disparate daughter languages which will undermine the mother tongue? Will English be displaced in world terms by a language such as Mandarin Chinese, which has been a great regional player since well before English emerged as an offshoot of Anglo-Saxon, French and Norse? Taking in a broad sweep of history, Ostler will examine the reasons for the dominance of a particular language at a particular time and look at the cultural importance of linguistic variety.

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About the Author:

Nicholas Ostler is a scholar and scientist of languages, who has a working knowledge of 26 languages and who set up five years ago the Foundation for Endangered Languages, an international organisation, to provide funding and support to document and revitilise languages in peril. With his own company Linguacubun Ltd., he regularly advises governments and corporations on policy in the field of computers and natural language processing.

From Booklist:

*Starred Review* Caesar led his legions into battle for the glory of Rome--and the immortality of Greek. In the curious spread of Greek through Roman conquest, Ostler recounts one of the many fascinating episodes in the complex history of languages. The resources of the cultural historian complement those of the comparative linguist in this capacious work, which sets the parameters for a new field of scholarship: "language dynamics." By peering over Ostler's shoulder into this new field, readers learn how languages ancient and modern (Sumerian and Egyptian; Spanish and English) spread and how they dwindle. The raw force of armies counts, of course, in determining language fortunes but for far less than the historically naive might suppose: military might failed to translate into lasting linguistic conquest for the Mongols, Turks, or Russians. Surprisingly, trade likewise proves weak in spreading a language--as the Phoenician and Dutch experiences both show. In contrast, immigration and fertility powerfully affect the fate of languages, as illustrated by the parallel histories of Egyptian and Chinese. Ostler explores the ways modern technologies of travel and communication shape language fortunes, but he also highlights the power of ancient faiths--Christian and Moslem, Buddhist and Hindu--to anchor language traditions against rapid change. Of particular interest will be Ostler's provocative conjectures about a future in which Mandarin or Arabic take the lead or in which English fractures into several tongues. Few books bring more intellectual excitement to the study of language. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Ostler, Nicholas
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (2005)
ISBN 10: 0007118708 ISBN 13: 9780007118700
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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2005. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0007118708

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