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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Finnish is related to Hungarian, and nothing else. As this book splendidly and authoritatively te, the language history of the world shows eloquently the real character of peoples; and, for all the recent tehnical mastery of English, nothing guarantees our language’s long-term preeminence.

It sent a shiver down my spine to read snippets of poetry written in Sumeria thousands of years ago. A scholar with a working knowledge of twenty-six languages, Nicholas Ostler has degrees from Oxford University in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics, and a Ph. The fascinating story of the world’s languages empjres their imperial history is somewhat submerged under all the details, but the author certainly avoids the Euro-centrism typical of this kind of discussion.

Not in anything major enough, anyway. In books of such scope, one is always wary that the author cheats a little here, a little there, making small mistakes where his competence might fail and in a work empies the complete history of language spread of the whole human race, such instances are inevitable, even if the author possesses a nicholaz knowledge of 26 languages, as the back cover rather preposterously claims.

Speaking of tongues

Ultimately, the book was fascinating, massive in scope, highly informative and well-researched, and a hell of a slog. Empires of the Word: Everywhere a map is needed, there is a map. When the administrators were overturned and the cities sacked in the fall of this civilisation, these libraries acquired the distinction of being the only ones in history to have been preserved by arson!

A final section looks at factors which may affect the relative importance of different languages in coming decades.

From our modern perspective, Hitler’s attempt to build himself an empire is horrible, incredibly egotistical, and entirely unacceptable. All by himself, he wrote this handy one-volume language history of the world, ranging from Sumerian, Akkadian and Aramaic in the ancient world to English in our contemporary scene, discussing Egyptian, Worlc, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Russian in the course of his immense story.

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.


This book gave me an interesting perspective on Hitler, of all things maybe it’s because Mel Brooks had me thinking about him earlier this week. Ambitious in scope, it organizes history into successions of language groups rather than the more usual empires and nations.

Turns out that when the pharaoh was gone, the heart went out of old Egyptian religion and the language was dmpires as a Christian language. May 25, Diana Sandberg rated it did not like it. Aug 04, Matthijs Krul rated it it was amazing. Looking at the history of world powers not in terms of political boundaries but of groups defined by Ostler’s ability to synthesize vast amounts of research is awe-inspiring, and his obvious love for certain languages he has a real crush on Sanskrit, in particular carries over to the subject material in ways that only the best wkrld manage.

Of course in a book of this scope–nothing less than world lf is no way to discuss all the many languages of mankind. Despite all this rampant competition, almost all of them — or their successors — are still in existence at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Nicholas Ostler – Wikipedia

Maybe it’s simply a lack of written material extant from that period, meaning that no real analysis is possible, but he specifically stated that about other languages, such as many of the pre-European American and Australian languages, but said nothing like that that I recall about the Germanic and Slavic languages.

Likewise the languages whose histories this book has reviewed have been spreading in increasing circles for twice that period of time. It focuses on the top 20 languages, kind of a greatest hits album.

The advance of the Arabic language was not really ‘lightning fast’ to the West – Ostler says that Coptic was the main language in Upper Egypt as late as the 14th century, and Berber was the main mother tongue in the Maghrib even longer – and the urban centres that were Arabised first were the places where non-Afro-Asiatic languages would have been strongest.

I personally find language history and usage fascinating nerd alertso maybe not everyone will find this book as cool as I did, but this was one of those books where I learned something new on basically every page and enjoyed doing it. The story of the world in the last five thousand years is above all the story of its languages. But please don’t take this paragraph as evidence that I’m some kind of Nazi sympathizer. One of the ways of making history books interesting is usually to make them personal, by telling of specific people and their specific experiences, and that’s just not possible with a book like this, the same way it is with a book with a narrowe This book has achieved the somewhat dubious accomplishment of being both very interesting and rather dry.


Empires of the Word: Language is the tie that binds us and forms our minds and societies, and by viewing the ebb and flow of its empires we glimpse the flow not merely of peoples and levers of power but of th Ostler has created a history of all of humanity, in so much as such a thing can be achieved in a single volume, on a basis unlike any other I have encountered. Empires of the Word: ByHindi-Urdu, Spanish and Arabic should rival it native speakers.

One of the few instances of a Greek’s attention to barbarian matters! Inhe wrote the foreword for Navlipithe publication of a universal script that deals with phonemic idiosyncrasies inherent in all the world’s languages Works [ edit ] Empires of the Word: And then there is Chinese.

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

These languages have built empires. Once language expansion could be achieved by force – or what Ostler describes as mergers and acquisitions – the pace of language growth was enormously accelerated. A Biography of Latin looks specifically at the language of the Romans, both before and after the existence of their Empire. In defence of the centrality of language in human history, Ostler argues that it is language that enables people to form communities and to share a common history: Russian managed to stamp out the indigenous languages of Asian Russia behind the Urals, Siberia, etc.

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.

pf Yet the history of the world’s great languages has been very little told Ostler explains how Greek propagated through settlement from the southern Balkan peninsula and Aegean islands to the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts from the 8th to the 5th century BC and, from to BC, through the war spearheaded by Alexander III to eliminate the Persian empire, whose accompanying process of Hellenization set the basis for the division of the Roman Empire into east and west in AD Higher education History books Language reviews.

Open Preview See a Problem? Jan 24, Mohammad Rameez added it. No trivia or quizzes yet. Indeed, the willingness to stay and farm rather than merely seek treasure is partly what distinguishes English as an empire-builder. Nicholas OstlerAP Watt literary agent.