Book Review: “Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World” by Nicholas Ostler

empires

Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World is a fascinating book about the historical evolution of the world’s major languages. This book describes how and why certain languages persisted and became dominantly used in the world and why others fell out of use. This is as much a cultural anthropological history book as it is a dynamic linguistics book.

Empires Of The Word spans the historical antiquity of the first dominant languages, including Greek, Latin, and Ancient Chinese. As time goes on and empires collapse and expand, the book shows how different cultures begin to adopt or dominate different linguistic groups.

Author Nicholas Ostler describes what he calls the “Death of Latin” and the eventual emergence of the Romance languages from Germanic invaders. I found the development and spreading of Spanish and English to be particularly interesting. The section of the book dedicated to the evolution of the Semitic language groups of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic are equally insightful.

Lastly, the book deals with the current top 20 languages of the earth and what the future may hold for them. Ostler then gives his hypothesis of which will become dominant and which will recede from use based on population trends and common usage.

Empires Of The Word is such a joy to read because it offers great insight into history from both social and cultural sources. It is remarkably in-depth and dense, but I found it to be an easy read for a layman with passing curiosity on the subject.  I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone who has ever wondered how and why we came to speak the wide variety of languages that we do. It’s a fun travel through time and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

*written by Matthew Beyer

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