Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

Front Cover
HarperCollins UK, Feb 25, 2010 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 688 pages

An unusual and authoritative 'natural history of languages' that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another at different times in history.

The story of the world in the last five thousand years is above all the story of its languages. Some shared language is what binds any community together, and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it.

Yet the history of the world’s great languages has rarely been examined. ‘Empires of the Word’ is the first to bring together the tales in all their glorious variety: the amazing innovations – in education, culture and diplomacy – devised by speakers in the Middle East; the uncanny resilience of Chinese throughout twenty centuries of invasions; the progress of Sanskrit from north India to Java and Japan; the struggle that gave birth to the languages of modern Europe; and the global spread of English.

Besides these epic achievements, language failures are equally fascinating: why did Germany get left behind? Why did Egyptian, which had survived foreign takeovers for three millennia, succumb to Mohammed’s Arabic? Why is Dutch unknown in modern Indonesia, given that the Netherlands had ruled the East Indies for as long as the British ruled India?

As this book engagingly reveals, the language history of the world shows eloquently the real characters of peoples; it also shows that the language of the future will, like the languages of the past, be full of surprises.


What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - ashleytylerjohn - LibraryThing

Oh dear--I had such high hopes--and I really do love the occasional academic treatise. This just wasn't compelling, despite in the abstract sounding like a slam dunk for me. Eventually I realised one ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - krista.rutherford - LibraryThing

If you, like me, are interested in linguistics and big-picture world history, this is the book. Looking at the history of world powers not in terms of political boundaries but of groups defined by ... Read full review


Spanish in the New World
Europes Languages Abroad
12Microcosm or Distorting Mirror? The Career of English
13The Current Top Twenty
14Looking Ahead

The Adventures of Greek
Celt Roman German and Slav
8The First Death of Latin
9The Second Death of Latin
About the Publisher

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2010)

Nicholas Ostler is a scholar and scientist of languages, who has a working knowledge of 26 languages and who, five years ago, set up the Foundation for Endangered Languages, an international organisation, to provide funding and support to document and revitilise 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.

Bibliographic information