There are many ways of recounting the history of the world - via the rise and fall of civilisations, the fortunes of nation states, socio-economic systems and patterns, the development of technology, or the chronology of war and military prowess. This book tells the story through the rise and decline of languages. It is a compelling read, one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while. Nicholas Ostler does not adopt a narrowly linguistic approach - based on the structure of languages and their evolution - but instead looks at the history of languages, the reasons for their rise and, as a rule, also their fall.
|Published (Last):||24 June 2017|
|PDF File Size:||16.12 Mb|
|ePub File Size:||20.67 Mb|
|Price:||Free* [*Free Regsitration Required]|
Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem.
Return to Book Page. Preview — Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler. 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 and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it.
From the uncanny resilience of Chinese through twenty centuries of invasions to the engaging self-regard of Greek and to the struggle 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 and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it. From the uncanny resilience of Chinese through twenty centuries of invasions to the engaging self-regard of Greek and to the struggles that gave birth to the languages of modern Europe, these epic achievements and more are brilliantly explored, as are the fascinating failures of once "universal" languages.
A splendid, authoritative, and remarkable work, it demonstrates how the language history of the world eloquently reveals the real character of our planet's diverse peoples and prepares us for a linguistic future full of surprises.
Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published June 27th by Harper Perennial first published February 21st More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews.
To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Empires of the Word , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details.
More filters. Sort order. Mar 08, Victor Sonkin rated it really liked it Shelves: history , language. This is a learned book. In books of such scope, one is always wary that the author cheats a little here, a little there, making small mistakes where his competence might fail and in a work covering the complete history of language spread of the whole human race, such instances are inevitable, even if the author possesses a working knowledge of 26 languages, as the back cover rather preposterously claims.
This said, I could not catch Dr. Ostler by the hand in those instances where I genera This is a learned book. Ostler by the hand in those instances where I generally could his review of the Russian language's imperial thrust, for instance. Not in anything major enough, anyway.
Which makes me pretty sure he's got the rest right, too. Here's an outline of the book's structure. Themistocles' Carpet: the chapter begins with a story from Herodotus about Themistocles' refusal to talk to the Persian king through an interpreter and taking his time a year to learn the language.
One of the few instances of a Greek's attention to barbarian matters! Part II: Languages by Land 3. Sumerian as the first classical language i. Akkadian and its model of literacy. Aramaic: Interlingua of western Asia. Here, I was fascinated to read a passage from the Old Testament about an enemy force speaking Hebrew to the Jewish commanders, and the Jews asking them to switch to Aramaic so that rank and file wouldn't understand.
Turkic and Persian, outriders of Islam. Triumphs of Fertility: Egyptian and Chinese. A long and a bit over-laborious comparison between the 'careers' of Egyptian and Chinese: dissemination by land, hieroglyphic script, long-term continuity. Sanskrit as one of the few 'world' languages mostly spread through scholarship and education rather than by sword. Greeks' indifference towards other languages. Three waves of Greek spreading: colonization, war Hellenistic , culture Roman.
Decline and reversal. The curious tenacity of Latin in the West and its relative failure in the East. The First Death of Latin: the transition from Latin to vernaculars. This is about post-Columbian exploration of the new worlds in Asia and America. The Second Death of Latin. Usurpers of Greatness: Spanish in the New World. Here, it was a surprise for me to read to what extent the indigenous languages of especially South America were used, even by the Spanish, as linguas francas of the New World; the complete reliance on Spanish came only relatively late; Ostler traces the spread of Nahuatl, Quechua, Chibcha, Guarani, Mapudungun lenguas generales.
Portuguese was widely used but soon abandoned; Dutch had even less success and today is virtually unknown outside Netherlands and Belgium; the French also lost a lot of ground, and the Russians were usually disliked by the people they were subduing; this makes Ostler wary about Russian's perspectives.
Russian managed to stamp out the indigenous languages of Asian Russia behind the Urals, Siberia, etc. Microcosm or Distorting Mirror? The Career of English. Changing perspective: English in India an experiment rooted very much in elitism and education; a successful one, if the picture painted by "Slumdog Millionaire" is anywhere near the truth. The world taken by storm. Ostler claims that today's mega-status of English to the extent when knowing the language is in itself a commodity is less due to America's dominant position in the world than is usually thought, and most of the groundwork had been done by the British indeed, apart from the US, the largest English-language countries - India, Australia, NZ, South Africa - are still mostly within the British linguistic sphere.
Here, Ostler reviews The Current Top Twenty and gives some predictions about their future distribution. His outlook for Russian and other European languages is rather grim he even foresees a future bilingualism in UK, English plus one of the Asian languages ; he advises English speakers not to become dizzy with success, which can be easily overturned; and even the Chinese with its billion speakers may face a decline.
The fascinating story of the world's languages and their imperial history is somewhat submerged under all the details, but the author certainly avoids the Euro-centrism typical of this kind of discussion. It is probably a little longer and more loaded with details than necessary and it's almost impossible to gloss over the non-essentials: the book's structure does not lend itself to such treatment.
But a stunning achievement nonetheless. View 2 comments. Jan 15, Jeff rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction , massive-loosely-supported-thematic , history , languages. This is an absolutely fascinating, dreadfully boring book. If you're at all interested in how dominant languages have spread and evolved, and how they impacted the linguistic development of all other languages in their regions, then stay away.
Nick Ostler has this tendency, also, to latch on to small bits of evidence and make much of it. He's usually clear that he's doing this; he says, "We don't This is an absolutely fascinating, dreadfully boring book.
He's usually clear that he's doing this; he says, "We don't really know, but this is the way that I think makes the story most interesting, and there is some evidence for it, so I'm going to choose to believe it was this way.
Finally, the book is peppered throughout with lots of source-language citations for pretty much every language that he talks about. It opens up with an extensive passage in romanized Quechua, for instance. I thought this was awesome; although I wasn't entirely convinced that his or his advisors had written everything precisely right, and trying to get one's head around the numerous different romanization systems to get a sense of what the languages actually sounded like and how they worked, his stated point in including these quotes got really difficult.
It's an admirable goal, but I don't think that it really worked as intended. All that said, this was a dry book about a totally fascinating subject, and if you're interested enough in the subject, you'll put up with reading the book. View all 5 comments. Jul 10, Jee Koh rated it really liked it.
Ostler's erudition is encyclopedic. All by himself, he wrote this handy one-volume language history of the world, ranging from Sumerian, Akkadian and Aramaic in the ancient world to English in our contemporary scene, discussing Egyptian, Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Russian in the course of his immense story.
The narrative is not one of a triumphal march; rather, it is a subtle plotting of the rise and fall of languages, and so puts the current prevalence of English in much-need Ostler's erudition is encyclopedic. The narrative is not one of a triumphal march; rather, it is a subtle plotting of the rise and fall of languages, and so puts the current prevalence of English in much-needed perspective.
Throughout the book Ostler is at pains to correct the misconception that empire-building has carried the burden of language spread. Some conquerors in fact adopted the language of their vanquished foes.
Even when military might led to language spread, what was more vital for the permanent adoption of the foreign language was the growth of the language community, in which a parent, often the mother, taught the children her native language. The hearth and not the battlefield was where language victories were won or lost. Ostler gives four main reasons why an imperial language lives on after the empire disappears.
The reasons are self-explanatory: creole e. In Ostler's terms, Singapore has retained English for reasons of unity and globality.
Speaking of tongues
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?
Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World
Ostler studied at Balliol College, Oxford , where he received degrees in Greek , Latin , philosophy, and economics. His book Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World documents the spread of language throughout recorded human history. The book documents and explains the spread of the various Semitic languages of Mesopotamia, including Akkadian and Aramaic, examines the resilience of Chinese through the centuries, and looks into the differential expansion of Latin in both halves of the Roman Empire, along with the many other expansions of the world's historical languages. His book Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin looks specifically at the language of the Romans , both before and after the existence of their Empire. The story focuses on the rise, spread, and dominance of Latin , both among other languages of the Italian peninsula in the early part of the 1st millennium BC and among the languages of Western Europe in the Dark Ages and beyond, presenting the life of Latin as any biographer would present the life of his subject.