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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“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.”