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. Nicholas Ostler is a British scholar and author. Ostler studied at Balliol College, Oxford, where His book Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World documents the spread of language throughout recorded human history. 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.

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May 26, Mario Russo rated it it incholas amazing Shelves: A wonderfully informative infodump of a book. Sign up here to receive your FREE alerts.

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

Like most Indo-European peoples, they cared more for honour than for life itself. The author here presents his case for the importance of languages in the human history.

There was an important omission in the Fertile Crescent: Before embarking on the linguistic conquest of the Americas, the author deals with the linguistic and political situation of the country that funded Christopher Columbus. A Language History of the World. Here are some tye the more noteworthy concepts: While successful or through its prestige in the former British Empire and its strong linkage with science and technology, it is increasingly becoming primarily a second language while first-language speakers gradually become less of a majority in their own countries.

So even if we haven’t seen any cases in history of writing technology inducing a change in popular speech before now, I think that may change, and soon. Ostler studied at Balliol College, Oxfordwhere he received degrees in GreekLatinphilosophy, and economics. One of the few instances of a Greek’s attention to barbarian matters!

After a brief introduction on the nature of language history, the first half of the book deals with the language spread by land. It’s a miraculous feat, and a powerful refresher on world history, written in a very engaging fashion so that there’s never a dull moment. This book addresses questions such as how languages establish themselves in a region and why they die out.


Aug 25, Pete rated it it was amazing. So while it was quite fascinating, it was not a good book to read when I was even a little sleepy. tje

Speaking of tongues

Kf just wasn’t compelling, despite in the abstract sounding like a slam dunk for me. So English is more of a lingua franca than anything else. I thought this was awesome; emires 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.

I also would have liked to read more about otler languages that have developed in the shadow of the Chinese giant – there is very little on Japanese, less on Korean, and practically nothing about the languages of Indochina. An important sub-group within the Semitic language family are the Canaanite language, comprising, for instance Phoenician and Hebrew. It is quite telling of this division between Hinduism and Islam that the largest and most wide-spread language in India today goes under two names: Kurdish is a Persian language, mepires of the Indo-European language group.

Before that, the spread of languages was essentially by means of land routes, which meant that the growth of a language was relatively slow and usually organic.

A culture that can write becomes both more unified and potentially more organised in many ways. From our vantage point in the early 21st century, this remains entirely unpredictable.

Nicholas Ostler

I found it approachable and exhilarating and not in the least bit dry or politicised. Canaan and points west. It sent a shiver down my spine to read snippets of poetry written in Sumeria thousands of years ago. Ostler deals with English towards the end, and gives reasons, which deserve thought, as to why it may not be a thousand-year empire.


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

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.

Empires of the Wordby the wide-ranging linguist Nicholas Ostleris the first to bring together the tales in all their glorious variety: Chinese civilisation is highly centred and averse to disunity; like Egyptian civilisation, it owed allegiance to an emperor who enjoyed a “mandate from heaven”; and the sheer density of population in its heartlands during ancient times largely prevented “swamping” by other languages.

While many Latin American countries to this day speak Spanish, in another former colony, the Philippines, the linguistic legacy remains marginal. Or will technology bring about the ”death of dialect,” making English more and more understandable to increasingly large swaths ostoer the global nichlas Other defining characteristics are its tendency and capacity to produce puns as seen in its poetryits key role in the correct recitation of the Vedas, and its expansion without errasing other languages.

There are obviously many fascinating languages that don’t appear or get short shrift.