Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

Nicholas Ostler, Author . HarperCollins $29.95 (615p) ISBN 978-0-06-621086-5

Ostler's ambitious and accessible book is not a technical linguistic study—i.e., it's not concerned with language structure—but about the "growth, development and collapse of language communities" and their cultures. Chairman of the Foundation of Endangered Languages, Ostler's as fascinated by extinction as he is by survival. He thus traces the fortunes of Sumerian, Akkadian and Aramaic in the flux of ancient Middle Eastern military empires. Ancient Egyptian's three millennia of stability compares with the longevity of similarly pictographic Chinese—and provides a cautionary example: even a populous, well-defined linguistic community can vanish. In all cases, Ostler stresses the role of culture, commerce and conquest in the rise and fall of languages, whether Spanish, Portuguese and French in the Americas or Dutch in Asia and Africa. The rise of English to global status, Ostler argues, owes much to the economic prestige of the Industrial Revolution, but its future as a lingua franca may falter on demographic trends, such as booming birth rates in China. This stimulating book is a history of the world as seen through the spread and demise of languages. Maps. Agent, Natasha Fairweather at A.P. Watt Ltd . (July 8)

Reviewed on: 05/16/2005
Release date: 06/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 640 pages - 978-0-06-204735-9
Paperback - 688 pages - 978-0-00-711871-7
Paperback - 615 pages - 978-0-06-093572-6
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