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An unusual and authoritative 'natural history of languages' that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another at different times in history.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An unusual and authoritative ‘natural history of languages’ that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another in the past, and what it is about – say – Greek, Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese and English that has led to their supremacy at different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

Product Description:

HardCover. Pub Date: June 2005 Pages: 640 in Publisher: Harper of The story of the world in the last five thousand years is above all the story of its languages. S Some shared language is On what binds the 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 ing 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 th...

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