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99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History and languages, July 3, 2005
This review is from: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World (Hardcover)
This book tells the history of the world through the rise and decline of languages. Nicholas Ostler has confined himself to languages that have been written down and which have spread geographically. They include Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and the main European languages.

Of the approximately 7,000 language communities in the world today, more than half have fewer than 5,000 speakers, and 1,000 fewer than a dozen: many will be extinct within a generation. At the top of the 20 global languages is Mandarin Chinese, which has 1.052 billion speakers, more than twice as many as the next highest, English, with 508 million. Third is Hindi with 487 million and fourth Spanish, with 417 million. How have these linguistic communities been created? Why have some flourished while others languished?

From the author's picture, it is clear that there is no single model. The most important factors in the spread of languages have generally been conquest, migration, economic might and religion. But to succeed, what a language needs above all is prestige, or the ability to attract speakers.

Besides looking back to the origins of the written word, Ostler speculates about the future. In 50 years, he argues, Chinese will probably still be the most widely spoken language, while English, at least as a native language, might have stagnated.

Ostler's writing is easily readible and he keeps things going with plenty of anecdotes and interesting facts. So I daresay that this is a book that can be savoured by the professional historian and educated layperson alike. Besides, the book is not a difficult read (content: 5 starts; pleasure: 4 to 5).

Additionally, as a complement to "Empires of the Word", I would also suggest reading the following works, whose scope is as amazingly global as Ostler's: 1. Agrarian cultures: "Pre-industrial societies" by Patricia Crone; 2. Economy: "The world economy. A millennial perspective" (2001) plus "The world economy: Historical Statistics" (2003) by Angus Maddison (a combined edition of these two volumes is to appear on December 2007); 3. Government: "The History of Government" by S.E. Finer; 4 Ideas: "Ideas, a History from Fire to Freud", by Peter Watson; 5. Religion: "The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen; and 6. War: "War in Human Civilization" by Azar Gat.
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Initial post: Jun 26, 2013 10:18:19 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 26, 2013 10:19:01 AM PDT
Dear Sir: Your recommendatiosn are very interesting. Do you have a recommendation on the development of money, with a global perspective? Thanks.
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