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The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel Hardcover – November 23, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; First Edition edition (November 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717719
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #504,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
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Review

“A bracing history of lingua francas and their dynamic variation, with a focus on the perfect wave that International English is riding—toward a wipeout…His aim is not pedantic but to pique general readers’ code-cracking interest. Ostler does not assume specialist knowledge, but he does assume that his readers share his gargantuan and voluptuary appetite for words, languages and history.”

—Kirkus Reviews


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on January 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You might consider Ostler a popularizer of the field of Socio-Linguistics. His new book, published in the US on November 23rd, is an extended essay on the role of English as a Lingua Franca in the modern World. Having recently read the author's earlier book Empires of the Word, I recognized both the theme and some of the details from the earlier book, which covers much of the same territory as the Last Lingua Franca, but in a more general manner.

Specifically, in The Last Lingua Franca looks to historical examples of other Lingua Francas, and how they failed, and asks questions about whether or not English, the current Lingua Franca, might suffer the same fate. I very much place this book along the same continuum where you find pop intellectuals like Malcolm Gladwell or, shudder, Jared Diamond. This group of writers familarizes itself with specific social science disciplines, distills the knowledge into modern magazine quality prose, and attempts to generate a hook that will interest readers who normally wouldn't give an eff about the field of "socio-linguistics."

As such, I would be inclined to think that Ostler has the right angle, since the "decline" of English is a subject that obsesses both liberal members of the education establishment and political right wingers who sponsor "English Only" bills in the legislatures of the southern states.

Most of Ostler's focus in this book is extended examples of different Lingua Francas, how they functioned, and how they collapsed. The reader is treated to chapters on the role of Latin, Persian & Sanskrit in their respective societies, followed by his take on the rise of English, and what "the future holds" for English or any other would-be Lingua Franca.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Tom Braun on March 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Oh man, this book was a slog.

I wanted to like it. I was very excited initially: at last a book about English's future as a world-wide 'lingua franca'. Will it continue to grow and flourish? Will it be replaced by some other language? Or will new technologies render the very need for a lingua franca obsolete? These are all questions Nicholas Ostler, author of the very good book 'Empires of the Word', promises to tackle.

And tackle them he does.... eventually. But in between the opening and closing sections, most relevant to his thesis, he has sandwiched a tediously detailed recounting of the rise and fall of almost every 'lingua franca' in recorded history.

I like history, but I am clearly a rote amateur next to Ostler. He seems to know the history of ancient central Asia like the back of his hand and assumes that the reader will too. Some of it was interesting simply because it was new to me (I knew very little about the Sogdians and their important role in trade before the rise of Islam) but a great deal of it was very dry. And Ostler's assumption seemed to be that the reader is almost as familiar with the subject matter as he is, which means that I was also frequently lost.

All these detours are ostensibly in the name of compiling evidence about lingua francas, but the material could have been much more briefly summarized to make the same basic points. It's clear that Ostler is simply fascinated by the interactions of ancient Turkic and Persian. And that he's used this book as an excuse to go on about them ad nauseum.

If those are his interests than power to him, but his enthusiasm was not effectively communicated to this reader.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John Peter Altgeld on July 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had read Nicholas Ostler's "Empires of the Word" and enjoyed it and learned from it. Based on that positive experience and the good reviews of "The Last Lingua Franca," I bought his new book.

What a disappointment. I didn't finish the book. I rate the book as high as three stars only because Ostler is a bright and accomplished scholar and his underlying theme is a good one. From the parts I read I feel that a reader could get the most important thoughts contained in the book through reading the jacket copy or from reviews.

Academia has a lot of virtues, but in "Lingua Franca" Ostler parades the worst of the negative stereotypes of academics: smugness, pedantry, pomposity, leaden writing. The book's many errors of fact, spelling and grammar show that he and his editors need to be more attentive. Some simple examples among the many errors: on page xii in the "Acknowlegments" he refers to the English language having been spoken "these last fifteen centuries;" and on pages 11 to 12 he writes, "Secondly, at the center of the Indian Ocean coastline, the polices [sic] of India stand in contrast to those of Sri Lanka ..." -- neither "polices" nor policies are at the center of the coastline. The writing is in the inflated style of an undergraduate seeking to impress the reader.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jorge on April 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Something to read over, go back over excerpts, etc... for anyone interested in Latin, linguistics, history, etc. Ostler's books are all always good. The kind of book I actually wished I had a hard copy of, and not the electronic one.
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