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Empires of the Word


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An unusual and authoritative 'natural history of languages' that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another at different times in history. / A lively, witty and controversial history of the world viewed through the rise and fall, dissemination and decimation of different languages. / Written without jargon and in a refreshingly unacademic manner, the book is designed to appeal to a wide general readership and anyone interested in the ways in which language is related to local communities and cultures. / Ostler is extremely promotable and will be available for signings and events on publication . / Sold over 4000 copies in hardback in the UK alone. / Published with a fascinating PS Section

About the Author

Nicholas Ostler is a scholar and scientist of languages, who has a working knowledge of twenty-six languages and who, five years ago set up the Foundation for Endangered Languages, an international organisation to provide funding and support to document and revitalise languages in peril. With his own company Linguacubun Ltd., he regularly advises governments and corporations on policy in the field of computers and natural language processing. He is the author of the highly acclaimed Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World and most recently Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin published by HarperCollins in 2007.


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. Agent, Natasha Fairweather at A.P. Watt Ltd. (July 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

'It is a compelling read, one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while ! a great book. After reading it you will never think of language in the same way again.' Guardian 'Learned and entertaining ! remarkably comprehensive as well as thought-provoking.' Observer 'Ostler is particularly good on this linguistic fragility ! This richly various book offers new insights and information for almost everyone interested in the past.' Sunday Telegraph 'A serious work of scholarship, but one that can be read from cover to cover by the amateur enthusiast!the breadth of this analysis is breathtaking ! it does its job admirably.' Spectator 'Ambitious and well-researched.' New Statesman

Ostler presents a masterly comparative analysis of empires' linguistic effects throughout history. An Oxford graduate and chair of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, Ostler writes in a concise yet engaging manner, displaying an impressive grasp of the history of languages, from Aramaic and Sanskrit to Chinese and Spanish. Language, he asserts, is a natural definer of communities and societies and therefore an integral part of history. Ostler analyzes the different ways in which certain languages have prevailed over others, chronologically and in relation to broader imperial pursuits. For example, Egyptian fell by the wayside during the successive rule of the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic empires; in contrast, Chinese has remained strong despite the incursion of the Mongols, Manchus, and challenges from Western powers in the 19th century. Ostler's study ultimately shows that all languages are susceptible to downfall; even the current, unprecedented prevalence of English, aided by global communication and trade, is neither impervious nor eternal. This book is accessible to anyone with an interest in language, and its original ideas, generous notes, and extensive bibliography make it well suited to academic libraries as well.-Rebecca Bollen Manalac, Lane Cove Lib., Sydney, Australia Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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