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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This is an absolutely fascinating, dreadfully boring book. It only survives to this day as Tbe, a Christian liturgical language, but it left an important legacy. In Ostler’s terms, Singapore has retained English for reasons of unity and globality.

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

Even the mightiest languages have fallen, and the future of the mightiest of our time – English – can never be secure or guaranteed, whatever the appearances to the contrary.

What languages have owtler millennia or have spread across continents, and why?

This, together with the fact that almost all the conquistadores had children in the New World, accounts for the prevailingly mestizo population prior to colonial independence—the minority white colonial-born criollos were the ruling class. An impressive and sweeping view of kf history of languages throughout human history.

Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. History is a lot more fascinating when viewed through the spread of various languages and cultures.


Looking at the history of world powers not in terms of political boundaries but of groups defined by What are the forces that might weaken the current hegemony of English around the world? 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.


By contrast, Chinese is thriving today with a billion native speakers. The focus is not on linguistic evolution – how vocabulary and grammar of languages have developed – but on the relationship of languages to political, economic, cultural and societal history.

Jul 10, Jee Koh rated it really liked it. The story of the world in the last five thousand years is above all the story of its 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.

Ostler deals with English towards the end, and gives reasons, which deserve thought, as to why it may not be a thousand-year empire. Its written system dates back around 4, years and during that time it has changed remarkably little.

The story focuses on the rise, spread, and dominance of Latinboth 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.

Yet the history of the world’s great languages has been very little told. There are obviously many fascinating languages that don’t appear or get short shrift. I have always been fascinated by history and by language, and a combination of the two ought to have riveted me, but in fact I spent several weeks attempting to slog through this thing and just couldn’t do it.

They were similar in that barbarian was essentially used to describe those not of the civilized center; different in that the Greek version didn’t waste much time categorizing barbarian qualities, whereas the Chinese had a more nuanced typography of barbaric attributes. The status of second language is precarious.

Speaking of tongues

Why do people learn some languages more easily than others? Jan 25, Michael Cayley rated it it was amazing Shelves: Nicholas OstlerHarper Collins. Liberally sprinkled with quotes in many of the languages discussed, supplemented with useful maps and charts and touching on several areas of historical linguistics, Empires of the Word is a comprehensive book that can get you started on thinking about language.

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A Language History of the World documents the spread of language throughout recorded human history. Tends toward the academic. Why do some flourish, like Chinese or English? Everywhere a map is needed, there is a map. Some shared language is what binds any community together and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it. The Cultured Career of Sanskrit. Sep 06, Alesa rated it it was amazing. Preview — Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler.

He has some really interesting insights on all sorts of things, like why Germanic tribes managed to conquer half the Roman Empire but didn’t impose their languages anywhere whereas the Arab conquests only a few hundred years later led to permanent linguistic change across almost all of their territories, and his ending discussion of the evolution and future of English is probably worth the price of the book right there. Hell, I’m not sure I’m that interested in the subject matter, and I happily read a whole book about the alphabet.

I had been disappointed with Michael Wood’s “The Story of India” because it omitted what to us to the East of India is one the most exciting parts of the Indian story – the expansion of Hindu culture into South East Asia. He lives in Bath, England.