Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

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9780066210865: 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An unusual and authoritative 'natural history of languages' that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another at different times in history.

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 rarely been examined. ‘Empires of the Word’ is the first to bring together the tales in all their glorious variety: the amazing innovations – in education, culture and diplomacy – devised by speakers in the Middle East; the uncanny resilience of Chinese throughout twenty centuries of invasions; the progress of Sanskrit from north India to Java and Japan; the struggle that gave birth to the languages of modern Europe; and the global spread of English.

Besides these epic achievements, language failures are equally fascinating: why did Germany 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, given that the Netherlands had ruled the East Indies for as long as the British ruled India?

As this book engagingly reveals, the language history of the world shows eloquently the real characters of peoples; it also shows that the language of the future will, like the languages of the past, be full of surprises.

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Product Description:

An unusual and authoritative ‘natural history of languages’ that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another in the past, and what it is about – say – Greek, Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese and English that has led to their supremacy at different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.

Review:

‘It is a compelling read, one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while…a great book. After reading it you will never think of language in the same way again.’ Guardian

‘Learned and entertaining…remarkably comprehensive as well as thought-provoking.’ Observer

‘Ostler is particularly good on this linguistic fragility…This richly various book offers new insights and information for almost everyone interested in the past.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘A serious work of scholarship, but one that can be read from cover to cover by the amateur enthusiast…the breadth of this analysis is breathtaking … it does its job admirably.’ Spectator

‘Ambitious and well-researched.’ New Statesman

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Book Description Harper, 2005. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: Noted linguist Nicholas Ostler brings together the tales of the world's languages in all their glorious variety in this unusual and authoritative "natural history of languages," offering a unique perspective on civilization through the ages. Maps. Charts. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0066210860

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