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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It may not always remain so. Romance languages include all of the obvious countries, plus duh! The result was the replacement of Sanskrit by Persian as the language of administration, ironically brought about by a horse-borne army. Ostler’s erudition is encyclopedic. My library Help Advanced Book Search. He’s usually clear that he’s doing this; he says, “We don’t 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.

The reasons are self-explanatory: In the Americas and Australasia the native populations were devastated and English-speakers took over the land.

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. If you, like me, are interested in linguistics and big-picture world history, this is the book. But English can hardly expect that its linguistic vogue will continue nicholqs.

It may thhe as many dialects, like those spoken in Jamaica and Singapore. Jan 24, Mohammad Rameez added it.

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World – Nicholas Ostler – Google Books

Indeed, it is salutary to learn that it has mainly been western cultures – Greek, Roman, French, Dutch, Portuguese, British and American, together with Islam – that have sought to impose themselves, and their languages, on others. The Goths dismembered the Roman Empire, but they still spoke the vernacular forms of Latin.

Yet a close comparative historical and linguistic study revealed how political unity, environmental factors and cultural self-confidence contrived to allow their nichplas survivals throughout the ages. From the uncanny resilience of Chinese through twenty centuries Sevond half of the book deals with the spread of the European languages by the sea, starting with Portuguese, spanish, dutch,French and then English.

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Other editions – View all Empires of the Word: However, this had little effect in practice and it was only after they discovered Brazil on 22 April that the Portuguese established a foothold in South America. I found it approachable and exhilarating and not in the least bit dry or politicised. English achieved what some other European colonial languages did not in that it became a symbol of achievement in the colonies for educated natives.

These tablets were sometimes fired, but for economic reasons large volumes of text, such as records of state, were simply dried and stacked in libraries. Why do some flourish, like Chinese or English?

There is Greek, whose fortunes were tied only empired to Greek civilisation and which somehow managed to hitch a ride on the Roman empire and become, as the prestige language of learning, an integral part of that historical era too.

And yet the long-term dominance of English will inevitably, in due course, give way. ByHindi-Urdu, Spanish and Arabic should rival it native speakers.

As far as I know this approach to language history is original, and for me the book empiree an eye-opener. It sent a shiver down my spine to read snippets of poetry written in Sumeria thousands of years ago. The idea of Latin rapidly displacing Celtic in Western Europe and Greek rapidly displacing Indo-European languages in Anatolia is hard to confirm given the lack of records in the displaced languages, and there are the counter-examples of the survival of British and the Indo-European languages of Eastern Anatolia Armenian and Kurdishsuggesting distance from the metropole rather than structural similarity is predominant.

EMPIRES OF THE WORD by Nicholas Ostler | Kirkus Reviews

Microcosm or Distorting Mirror? Throughout the book Ostler is at pains to correct the misconception that empire-building has carried the burden of language spread. Ostler is a professional linguist and currently chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages. Sanskrit as one of the few ‘world’ languages mostly spread through scholarship and education rather than by sword. Everywhere a map is needed, there is a map. 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 and abandonment over the millennia.

This is a wonderful book. Ostler by the hand in those instances where I generally could his review of the Russian language’s imperial thrust, for instance. It opens up with an extensive passage in romanized Quechua, for instance.


I learned a few things that I’d been curious about for a long time, like why did Ancient Egyptian cease to be spoken? The Greek language continued to thrive for more than years largely because it was held in esteem by learned Romans. My library Help Advanced Book Search. The answers seem to have less to do with the unique qualities of the language than you might think, and less to do with military or commercial dominance.

I was looking forward to this book — but it is much too pedantic. Much as I wouldn’t want to suggest he make this book any longer, a little more on that subject or a mention of why there couldn’t be more on that subject would have been nice. Arabic of the young, with Spanish and Hindi-Urdu somewhere in between. English traffic on the Internet was recently exceeded by the total in other languages.

Unlike Phoenicians and Greeks, they were also interested in religious conversion and the language went beyond a mere lingua franca, giving rise to a number of creoles in the region. Without a general understanding of world history and geography, it will be difficult to appreciate the significance of the survival or disappearance of a language when the political entities behind them still exists or had been long dissolved.

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

Portuguese and Dutch were successful merchants, but they were more than happy to speak the local lingua franca. A wonderfully informative infodump of a book. Accessible and largely non-technical, it is illustrated by the swirls otler curlicues of the languages with which it treats, but does not require of the reader to master the scripts or the grammar.

As far as I know thi Oxtler is a history of languages which have left written works or records – how and why they spread or went into decline, what causes languages to become dominant and so on.

Nicholas Ostler is a British scholar and author. There is Latin itself, which ultimately failed to outlive the imperium and which slowly transmuted into the vernacular Romance languages.