The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel

Nicholas Ostler, Walker, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1771-9
The days of English as the all-conquering international language of science, commerce, and hip-hop are numbered, according to this dense philological treatise. Linguist Ostler (Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin) recaps the rise and fall of lingua francas past—from ancient Sanskrit and Latin to French in the 19th century—to glean insights into how such languages spread—by military conquest, trade, and missionary work— then shrivel when the originating country loses prestige and power. He concludes from this retrospective that English will recede (though not die), and that no new lingua franca will supplant it—sorry, Esperanto speakers!—because translation software will let everyone communicate directly without learning a common language. Ostler uses English's fate mainly as a peg to hang a rather technical comparative study in which pedestrian generalities emerge from a thicket of historical minutiae. The interested layman will find the book readable, but the level of arcane detail about unfamiliar languages ("the characteristic ezafe construction of Persian noun–phrases, which appends all dependents to the head noun with a linking –i-or-e-, is copied in Chagatay Turkic") may put off the casual reader. 10 b&w illus.; 3 maps. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/11/2010
Release date: 11/01/2010
Open Ebook - 978-0-8027-7870-3
Hardcover - 330 pages - 978-1-84614-215-4
Paperback - 330 pages - 978-1-84614-216-1
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