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. Empires of the Word, by Nicholas Ostler. Language is mightier than the sword. Michael Church; Wednesday 6 April 0 comments. 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.

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European expansion started with the Portuguese, followed by the Spanish and the Dutch. A reader less in love with languages might settle for calling the book simply a history of languages that looks at the factors which have led to their adoption ostleer abandonment over the millennia.

Ostler divides language spread into two periods, before and after This is why the same Chinese written system can serve equally well for the many different Chinese dialects sometimes described as languages and thereby provide a powerful source of unity for such a huge and wide-ranging population. The top 20 global languages – defined in terms of their use as a first or second language – nihcolas an interesting reflection on the fortunes of those languages that have spread by organic growth and those that have expanded by means of ov and acquisitions.

Of the approximately 7, language communities in the world today, more than half have fewer nichooas 5, speakers, and 1, fewer than a dozen: There is Sanskrit, which spread from northern India across the sub-continent, largely on the back of Hinduism, and then – though no one quite knows how – to southeast Asia.

Besides the obvious improvements in shipbuilding and nautical knowledge and equipment, the period of Languages by Sea starts with the consolidation of new elites whose languages English, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, German, French and to a lesser extent Dutch have some of the highest numbers of speakers in the world today.

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler

Refresh and try again. Wkrd, her self-confidence turned into arrogance and hence after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Greek drastically retreated to where she was originally spoken: The world taken by storm.


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. The distinctive traits of various languages and how they are central to the formation of societies and their role in ostller their cultures.

We first saw the appearance of the earliest written records in Ur, and then how Akkadian, a very ancient Semitic language, rose as empores first lingua franca of the ancient world.

Language Innovation in the Middle East.

It is probably a little longer and more loaded with details than necessary and it’s almost impossible to gloss over the non-essentials: English in Emmpires an experiment rooted very much in elitism and education; a successful one, if the picture painted by “Slumdog Millionaire” is anywhere near the truth. But maybe English is here to stay? The book starts with the earliest languages Sumerian, Akkadian, etc.

Off his rich picture of why major languages have waxed and waned, it is clear that there is no single model: All you wanted worc know about the rise and fall of great languages, but not told in a very interesting way. The clergy, however, did not support the teaching of Spanish and preferred to use the widespread local imperial languages as lenguas generales or Latin to proselytize.

If you, like me, are interested in linguistics and big-picture world history, this is the book. While classical Greek was picked up for study during the Rennaisance, it had lost its place as a lingua franca to Latin.


Mar 22, William rated it did not like it Shelves: Finally, the book is peppered throughout with lots of source-language citations for pretty much every language that he talks about.

The Middle East was then shaken by a new superstar: The advance of the Arabic language was not really ‘lightning fast’ to the West – Ostler says that Coptic was the main language in Upper Egypt as late as the 14th century, and Berber was the main mother tongue in the Maghrib even longer – and the urban centres that were Arabised first were the places where non-Afro-Asiatic languages would have been strongest.


After reading it you will never think of language in the same way again – and you will probably think of the world, and its future, in a owtler different way too. While setting up shop in Carthage and osgler around the Meditarrenean, Phoenicians spread an alphabet based off of Egyptian hieroglyphs from which the Greek and Latin ones would derive.

At the top of the league table is Mandarin Chinese, which has 1, million speakers, more than twice as many as the next highest, English, with million.

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

Russian managed to stamp out the indigenous languages of Asian Russia behind the Urals, Siberia, etc. A Language History of the World. Some conquerors in fact adopted the language of their vanquished foes.

An ideographic system can offer nearly insurmountable obstacles to learning and yet, like Chinese, its very abstraction from the phonetic nature of the language can enable it to serve and persist as the medium of transmission for mutually unintelligible dialects. Despite all this rampant competition, almost all of them — or their successors — are still in ths at the beginning of the twenty-first century. He has some really interesting insights on all sorts of things, like why Germanic tribes managed to conquer nicholss the Roman Empire but didn’t impose their languages anywhere whereas the Arab conquests only a few hundred years later led to permanent linguistic change across almost all of their territories, and his ending discussion of the evolution and future of English is probably worth the price of the book right there.