- Hardcover: 640 pages
- Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (June 28, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0066210860
- ISBN-13: 978-0066210865
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 106 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #195,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World First Edition Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Ostler's ambitious and accessible book is not a technical linguistic study—i.e., it's not concerned with language structure—but about the "growth, development and collapse of language communities" and their cultures. Chairman of the Foundation of Endangered Languages, Ostler's as fascinated by extinction as he is by survival. He thus traces the fortunes of Sumerian, Akkadian and Aramaic in the flux of ancient Middle Eastern military empires. Ancient Egyptian's three millennia of stability compares with the longevity of similarly pictographic Chinese—and provides a cautionary example: even a populous, well-defined linguistic community can vanish. In all cases, Ostler stresses the role of culture, commerce and conquest in the rise and fall of languages, whether Spanish, Portuguese and French in the Americas or Dutch in Asia and Africa. The rise of English to global status, Ostler argues, owes much to the economic prestige of the Industrial Revolution, but its future as a lingua franca may falter on demographic trends, such as booming birth rates in China. This stimulating book is a history of the world as seen through the spread and demise of languages. Maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Caesar led his legions into battle for the glory of Rome--and the immortality of Greek. In the curious spread of Greek through Roman conquest, Ostler recounts one of the many fascinating episodes in the complex history of languages. The resources of the cultural historian complement those of the comparative linguist in this capacious work, which sets the parameters for a new field of scholarship: "language dynamics." By peering over Ostler's shoulder into this new field, readers learn how languages ancient and modern (Sumerian and Egyptian; Spanish and English) spread and how they dwindle. The raw force of armies counts, of course, in determining language fortunes but for far less than the historically naive might suppose: military might failed to translate into lasting linguistic conquest for the Mongols, Turks, or Russians. Surprisingly, trade likewise proves weak in spreading a language--as the Phoenician and Dutch experiences both show. In contrast, immigration and fertility powerfully affect the fate of languages, as illustrated by the parallel histories of Egyptian and Chinese. Ostler explores the ways modern technologies of travel and communication shape language fortunes, but he also highlights the power of ancient faiths--Christian and Moslem, Buddhist and Hindu--to anchor language traditions against rapid change. Of particular interest will be Ostler's provocative conjectures about a future in which Mandarin or Arabic take the lead or in which English fractures into several tongues. Few books bring more intellectual excitement to the study of language. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
The ebook formatting, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired.
1) Images (and there are hundreds of them, including many special characters) only appear in the "View on your Browser" environment or (presumably) on a direct-networked Kindle device. They do NOT appear on the Kindle for PC reader or, therefore (I believe) in side-loaded Kindles. (And if you convert and read the file on an ePub device, they don't appear there, either.) You can read the book without the images, but you are missing a lot of the helpful illustrations, and most of the unusually accented characters.
2) Page references all point to the print edition and (of course) have no relationship to whatever digital device you use, nor are they live links.
3) eBook pagination jumps all over the map. For example, on my device, crossing a chapter boundary moved me from p. 662 (of 696) to p. 140.
People who think that a book about languages should not discuss the contexts, causes and effects of languages are like the zoologists hundreds of years ago who studied animals only in zoos and laboratories. Without its environment, an animal's anatomy, physiology and behaviour are incomprehensible. That's why "ecology" was invented. This book by Ostler is like an ecological study of languages, understanding them in their historical context, including society, politics, conquests, wars, economics and even pandemics. And as in animal ecology, the effects are two-way. Languages have a powerful influence on society, politics, conquests, wars and economics.
Language is what makes humans different to animals. So it is by understanding languages that we can understand the stellar rise of the human species to world dominance. We try to understand the contexts, causes and effects of everything else. Similarly, understanding language ecology and evolution is essential if we want to understand human nature. In particular, language differences have always been closely correlated to social, tribal, national and imperial divisions, perhaps even more so in the last century than in previous centuries. For example, there is usually hostility between language groups and solidarity within language groups. (No surprises there!) Anyone who wants to understand the present state of humanity must first understand the role of languages in shaping history, which this book explains very well.
By the way, I bought this book at a local book-store in 2007 and read it in 2008. I still consider it to be one of the best books I have read on both language history and general history, particularly the history of national conquests.
Most recent customer reviews
I enjoyed this presentation of world history as it relates to the evolution of civilization.Read more