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Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World [Format Kindle]

Nicholas Ostler
4.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)

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Descriptions du produit

Revue de presse

“[A] wide-ranging history of the world’s languages... [Ostler] brilliantly raises questions and supplies answers or theories.” (Washington Post )

“Enlightening . . . Always challenging, always instructive--at times, even startling or revolutionary.” (Kirkus Reviews )

“Delicious! Ostler’s book shows how certain lucky languages joined humankind in its spread across the world.” (John McWhorter )

“What an extraordinary odyssey the author of this superb work embarked upon.” (Literary Review )

“Covers more rambunctious territory than any other single volume I’m aware of...A wonderful ear for the project’s poetry.” (John Leonard, Harper's Magazine )

“Revolutionary... Executed with a giddying depth of scholarship, yet the detail is never too thick to swamp the general reader.” (Boston magazine )

“True scholarship. A marvelous book, learned and instructive.” (National Review )

“[A] monumental new book... Ostler furnishes many fresh insights, useful historical anecdotes and charming linguistic oddities.” (Chicago Tribune )

“A work of immense erudition.” (Christian Science Monitor )

“A story of dramatic reversals and puzzling paradoxes. A rich... text with many piercing observations and startling comparisons.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review )

Présentation de l'éditeur

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.

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2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Histoire des langues de pouvoir 4 août 2010
A travers ce livre, Ostler raconte l'histoire passionnante des grandes langues du monde, celle qui ont forgé les empires et ont étendu leur influence bien au-delà de leur frontières d'origine. Un voyage assurément passionnant, même si les aspects structurels sont finalement assez peu mentionnés. J'aurais également préféré un plus grande attention pour les langues européennes, même s'il est évident qu'un tel livre ne saurait être eurocentrique. Cela dit, sa passion pour le langage et son rôle à travers les âges est évidente. Finalement, le plus grand mérite de cette ouvrage est de nous rappeler à quel point l'hégémonie des langues est éphémère à l'échelle de l'Histoire. Alors, français hier, anglais aujourd'hui, mandarin demain... et après?
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 A very interesting approach 15 août 2014
Par gbseixas
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
This is a very interesting approach to the study of languages - their histories as connected to the peoples who spoke them and, as a natural consequence, these peoples cultures and cultural impact on other people. Mr. Ostler prose could maybe be more elegant, but the book will not fail to fascinate anyone who loves languages and their magic.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 étoiles sur 5  85 commentaires
215 internautes sur 223 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 History speaks! 1 août 2005
Par Peter Uys - Publié sur Amazon.com
This impressive work is a study of language dynamics over five millennia. Ostler deals with the birth, rise and decline of those languages that spread most widely through history, and the factors that played a part, like trade, conquest and culture. Of course the book is also by definition a history of civilization. The narrative begins in Sumeria and ends with English as the most important international language of today. The author rightly observes that the study of language history and historical linguistics will be mutually rewarding. He also attempts to indirectly capture the inward history of languages & the subtle mindsets that characterize individual ones, especially as regards the abandonment of mother tongues for new languages.

Part Two: Languages by Land, looks at the Middle & Far East: Sumerian, Akkadian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish & Persian, Egyptian & Chinese whilst chapters 5 & 6 considers Sanskrit & Greek respectively. The last two chapters deal with Celtic, Latin, German & Slavic. Part Three: Languages by Sea, explores the spread of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and the remarkable career of English. Part Four deals with the current Top 20 languages and reflects on the meaning and implications of the global survey.

The life-spans of languages differ greatly; if one compares Latin with Greek, for instance, Greek continued to thrive under Roman hegemony alongside Latin and eventually supplanted Latin again in the Byzantine Empire. Some significant civilizational languages like Latin and Sanskrit have all but died as spoken tongues, but they gave birth to rich families of related languages, whilst Old Chinese's pictographic script still serves its daughter languages very well.

A major change occurred around the 16th century when the European voyages of discovery spread the languages of Europe far and wide to the Americas, Africa and Asia. Launched by trade, these languages became tongues of empire through conquest. In that way Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English spread around the globe. Dutch gave rise to the vibrant Afrikaans in Southern Africa and lingers on in some form or other in Suriname and on some tiny Caribbean islands but has disappeared from Indonesia. French & Russian are in decline, having lost much prestige and many speakers the last few decades.

Ostler differentiates between languages that grew organically (like Chinese) and those that grew by "merger and acquisition". Of the former, Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more than a billion people whilst English with around 500 million, is in second place. Hindi (derived from Sanskrit) is third with about 490 million, followed by Spanish in 4th place with 418 million speakers. Of course as a second language, English is of greater global importance than Mandarin. The book is full of fascinating facts and stuff that will appeal to linguists and hobbyists alike. For example: There are an estimated 7000 linguistic communities today, but at least half of them are on the verge of extinction with fewer than 5000 speakers. Within one generation many of these languages will disappear.

Migration was the primary cause of language spread. Global navigation arrived later and today we have electronic communication. There is an interesting passage of speculation on the future of English. Ostler identifies prestige & learnability as the two main growth factors in creating a larger human community. The first might offer wealth, wisdom or literary enjoyment to attract speakers. The ability to learn a new language depends on structural similarities between the population group's existing language & the new one. Owing to structural correspondences, Arabic took root where Afro-Asiatic languages like Egyptian & Aramaic were spoken but it could not displace Persian or Spanish. It is well known that speakers of Japanese learn Turkish easily but battle with English for the same reason.

For those interested in the many facets of language, I also recommend: On the Origin of Languages and A Guide to the World's Languages by Merritt Ruhlen, The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher, Genes, Peoples, and Languages & The Great Human Diasporas by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza plus The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter. As a linguistic history of the world, Empires Of The Word is unique, highly readable and a valuable reference source. It contains many tables & figures as well as beautiful and informative maps. This well-researched and absorbing work concludes with notes, an index and a bibliography.
102 internautes sur 106 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 History and languages 3 juillet 2005
Par César González Rouco - Publié sur Amazon.com
This book tells the history of the world through the rise and decline of languages. Nicholas Ostler has confined himself to languages that have been written down and which have spread geographically. They include Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and the main European languages.

Of the approximately 7,000 language communities in the world today, more than half have fewer than 5,000 speakers, and 1,000 fewer than a dozen: many will be extinct within a generation. At the top of the 20 global languages is Mandarin Chinese, which has 1.052 billion speakers, more than twice as many as the next highest, English, with 508 million. Third is Hindi with 487 million and fourth Spanish, with 417 million. How have these linguistic communities been created? Why have some flourished while others languished?

From the author's picture, it is clear that there is no single model. The most important factors in the spread of languages have generally been conquest, migration, economic might and religion. But to succeed, what a language needs above all is prestige, or the ability to attract speakers.

Besides looking back to the origins of the written word, Ostler speculates about the future. In 50 years, he argues, Chinese will probably still be the most widely spoken language, while English, at least as a native language, might have stagnated.

Ostler's writing is easily readible and he keeps things going with plenty of anecdotes and interesting facts. So I daresay that this is a book that can be savoured by the professional historian and educated layperson alike. Besides, the book is not a difficult read (content: 5 starts; pleasure: 4 to 5).

Additionally, as a complement to "Empires of the Word", I would also suggest reading the following works, whose scope is as amazingly global as Ostler's: 1. Agrarian cultures: "Pre-industrial societies" by Patricia Crone; 2. Economy: "The world economy. A millennial perspective" (2001) plus "The world economy: Historical Statistics" (2003) by Angus Maddison (a combined edition of these two volumes is to appear on December 2007); 3. Government: "The History of Government" by S.E. Finer; 4 Ideas: "Ideas, a History from Fire to Freud", by Peter Watson; 5. Religion: "The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen; and 6. War: "War in Human Civilization" by Azar Gat.
25 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 who wrote what when & where... & why? 25 juillet 2005
Par Rebecca Brown - Publié sur Amazon.com
Rebeccasreads highly recommends EMPIRES OF THE WORD as a dense, fascinating, informative & accessible read.

At 640 pages with Notes, Bibliography & Index, it will certainly get the world of words talking, in all their various tongues.

What were the origins of language, & where & when did they start?

Why did Latin die when the Roman Empire collapsed & Greek survive?

Outside of the Middle East why is Arabic primarily the language of liturgy?

How did Chinese thrive even after millenia of conquests from outsiders?

How far from home did Sanskrit roam?

What languages did the Spanish conquistadors kill off?

How did European languages stay alive despite constant oppression?

What is the real career of English?

What are the Current Top Twenty languages of the world today, & is their future secured?

EMPIRES OF THE WORD is the way I love to learn history, telling the stories of our mother tongues. Sure there are armies marching across the globe bringing with them, besides war & pestilence, commerce, language & interpreters. There are explorers sailing the seven seas making landfall in strange places among stranger peoples, taking home unknown commodities & new words for them. There were also merchants who travelled overland, exchanging goods, customs & translations. All took their languages with them, becoming multi-lingual & creating new ones with which to barter & carry on diplomacy.

Just one question: were the Fertile Crescent writers predominantly left-handed, & when & where did we start writing left to right?

16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Rise and Fall of Languages 24 août 2005
Par Izaak VanGaalen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
In the fashion of Jorge Luis Borges, I have always dreamed of a book that contained the history of the world in which languages were the main actors. Thanks to Nicholas Ostler, PHD in linguistics from MIT, we now have such a book. Not only was I not disappointed, it exceded even my wildest dreams. It takes great knowledge and audacity to undertake this project, and Ostler has both.

This work focuses mainly on languages that have been widely influential. The first part of the book, starting 5,300 years ago, describes the spread of languages by land, from 3,300 BC up to the Middle Ages. The second part is an account of the spread of European languages as they conquered and colonized the world by sea. In the last part of the book, Ostler makes some predictions as to which languages will dominate in the coming century.

Instead of trying to summarize the book - which would be impossible in this space - I will highlight some of the more interesting points.

1)Why did Latin or one of its vernacualars not take root in England as it did in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal? After all they were all domains of the Roman Empire. And why did Anglo-Saxon take root in England and nowhere else? Ostler speculates that most of the population died out from the plague leaving a linguistic void for the conquering Anglo-Saxons. However, there is no one determinent that will guarantee a language's staying power: factors include conquest, migration, economic power, and religion.

2)Why did Greek survive long after Greek civilization disappeared? It became a language of learning and prestige during the Roman Empire, and also latter in Constantinople during the Byzantium era. In a sense, it has parallels with Hebrew. Hebrew was not a vernacular from 100 BC until the 20th century, it survived mainly as a liturgical language, a language of learning.

3)In an excellent chapter called "The Triumphs of Fertility," Ostler compares Egyptian and Chinese. Both are rather cumbersome and unwieldy pictographic languages, but this also served as a unifying force in civlilizations with many mutually unintelligible dialects. Chinese and Egyptian civilizations were highly centralized with densely populated heartlands. Hence, their tremendous fertility prevented invading languages from overtaking them for thousands of years. Chinese is still with us today, but Egyptian was finally conquered by Arabic around 700 AD.

4)Sanskrit and Arabic are examples of languages that spread by being bearers of major religions. Arabic spread quickly across the Arabian peninsula and across North Africa through conquest. Arabic did not supplant the dominant languages of what are now Turkey and Iran, but both Turkish and Persian retain many Arabic words. It is a belief of devout Muslims that God's truth will only be revealed in Arabic, thus giving great impetus to its study. Sanskrit, which Ostler affectionately calls the "charming creeper," spread, not by conquest, but more by seduction and by organic growth. Sanskrit, as the language of Hinduism, gradually established itself in the subcontinent and latter in Southeast Asia. Today, however, only the vernaculars of Sanskrit are mainly spoken, Sanskrit itself has only about 200,000 speakers left.

5)After 1500, the European powers and languages began expanding by sea. Ostler gives accounts of why Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, and English established themselves in some places but not others. In most cases, where the conquering language takes root is where entire families migrate and establish themselves in the rural areas, away from the imperial center. The English in America, Australia, and Canada, as well as the Portuguese in Brazil are examples of this axiom. This is why English did not do well in, say, India nor Portuguese in Indonesia.

This book is simply a tour de force. Ostler asks all the right questions and answers them very judiciously. After reading it you will start to think of the future in terms of which languages will be spoken.
26 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Exhausting, exhaustive, and in the end, exhilarating 16 janvier 2006
Par John L Murphy - Publié sur Amazon.com
If John McWhorter's "Power of Babel" looks under the hood at how language's "engine" is assembled and how it energizes the word, Nicholas Ostler ranks the top models sold for their performance and handling. Ostler examines how the most successful languages throughout history succeeded or failed in perpetuating themselves as regional or, as with English, global means of communication. As a non-linguist but with training in English, Spanish, medieval and Celtic literatures and languages, I found particularly intriguing his chapters on these topics. Far slower for me were the densely detailed opening sections on Near Eastern, Chinese, Sanskrit, and related tongues. Here, too often, my eyes glazed over at the sheer amount of historical minutiae and tangential illustrations. This is the problem with much of this weighty tome: having to re-tell the rise and fall of language powers via their historical dynamics, history has to be recapitulated as well as the linguistic and, to a lesser extent, literary highlights. Jargon is less present than in many linguistic studies geared at a wider audience, but nothing's dumbed down. This book rewards concentration more than the quick dip by the browser, as much of Ostler's argument accumulates as the book continues towards the current rise of global English. Despite a rather uneven pace, due to the sheer difficulty in integrating so much history into so many languages, having a single volume devoted to what Ostler calls "diachronic sociolinguistics" or "language dynamics" (and he names this only on pg. 556, in the penultimate paragraph of the text proper!) is enormously useful for those of us non-specialists who need a compendium.

The encyclopedic and the narrative methods do jostle each other. Once in a while, as in his marvelous analogy of "two sisters," Judith (Hebrew) and Phoenicia (also going by Canaanite, he points out, in other words, the Palestinian predecessor), he finds the clever example to clarify his point. But such moments of inspiration are surprisingly few, and often as not nestled in the footnotes as emphasized in the text. This does make for a tough slog; despite many pages detailing why Aramaic overtook Akkadian, I was never confident that I understood precisely why. And the chapter organization means that some repetition keeps occuring; while cross-referencing helps retention, it does make for some awkward gaps. In the chapter on Greek, little mention of its Renaissance revival and less of its Arab hiatus is made--you have to wait for many pages for another examination of these factors, and it's disappointingly brief.

Yet, as the early modern eras loom, the pace quickens. In the fluid coverage of Spanish, the reasons for its missionary instruction and the need to teach it to adult learners (Merger & Acquisition) rather than the organic way of letting it grow through the native mother's child raising (as many languages do, for often the conqueror's language can lose out in the long run to the native, for the woman and the child tend to transmit the native and not the "foreign occupier's" language on to the next generations in the absence of females from the same first-language background to mate with the men when settling abroad) makes for provocative insights. Even here, however, the book jacket tells us that Ostler's an "expert on the Chibcha language" that yielded in South America to 18c Spanish; we get remarkably little of this story told--one paragraph!

Still, his coverage of English, too complicated to summarize here, shows why a reader needs to slog through so much material; his analysis and prognosis depends upon all of his previous chapters and dozens of earlier linguistic examples. It's instructive, to name only one point, how Germanic English bested British Celtic and Norman French not only due to military power but plague devastation. These observant chapters comprise the most lively part of the book, at least for a native English speaker I suppose. But he does seem rather too blase, for one who chairs a charity, Ogmios, to assist small-language sustainment, about the fate of threatened language communities; he shrugs that there's nevertheless 6,000 of them remaining. Yes, but he also predicts that half of these have their last speakers alive today. A tie between ecological and linguistic preservation might have illuminated his reflections better, without romanticizing the converse to the cruel calculus that has relentlessly led to language extinction as well as creation throughout the millennia he chronicles so dutifully. His scholarly mien expects dispassion, however.

Ostler's reflections on how native vs. second-language or foreign-language speakers of English will fare as it becomes global and more used as a "lingua franca" [sic] than as a first-language raise many wonderful speculations that I found engrossing and fresh. He opened my eyes to how difficult English orthography is, and how adaptable it still is despite its daunting and growing disjunction between print and speech. The end of this long volume makes the effort in reading it and learning so much--trivia and substance both--worthwhile.
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