Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World

Nicholas Ostler
Nicholas Ostler's Empires of the Word is the first history of the world's great tongues, gloriously celebrating the wonder of words that binds communities together and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it. From the uncanny resilience of Chinese through twenty centuries of invasions to the engaging self-regard of Greek and to the struggles that gave birth to the languages of modern Europe, these epic achievements and more are brilliantly explored, as are the fascinating failures of once "universal" languages. A splendid, authoritative, and remarkable work, it demonstrates how the language history of the world eloquently reveals the real character of our planet's diverse peoples and prepares us for a linguistic future full of surprises.


Reviewed: 2017-01-02
I just couldn't get into the book. It was a tough read, although it's clear the author loves his subject. The first couple of chapters were interesting, and I thought the author's enthusiasm would carry me through. But it wasn't enough and it really read (to me) more like a series of essays or academic papers all rolled up into one book.

The author looks at various languages and traces their history throughout time. He also sometimes puts multiple languages from different areas together in one chapter to discuss them. And while he seems knowledgeable and excited about the topic, it just wasn't something I was interested in. I thought it would be more historical (the "Empires of the World" threw me off there) rather than a linguistic study.

If you are studying languages, anthropology, etc., it might be interesting to read. It also might be worth the pickup for those who are studying the history or languages of particular areas, although it's rather pricey as a text and a poor student would be better suited to borrowing from the library. If you're just a casual reader, definitely thumb through this first before deciding to pick it up. It's more of an academic text than a read for your commute or time at the beach or coffee shop.
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