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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Decline and Fall of the English Language

BOOK REVIEW

EMPIRES OF THE WORD
A LANGUAGE HISTORY OF THE WORLD
NICHOLAS OSTLER
p. 2006

   An English speaker/reader of 2010 could be forgiven for a spot of triumphant jubilation. Though English may not be spoken by the most people on Earth, it's status as a "lingua franca" or international trade, science and culture is unmatched.  How could English disappear from the face of the Earth, joining extinct but in their time important languages like Sanskrit and Latin?  Nick Ostler writes this very interesting book from the perspective of a modern English speaker.  It's no secret that his Language History of the World ends with a Chapter on the extraordinary career of modern English.

   However, Ostler holds his hand on English- other then the last chapter, the rest of Empires of the Word is a straight forward "language history of the world."  Particularly interesting are the chapters on the language families of North and South America prior to Contact, and the history of Sanskrit and it's progeny in South Asia.  Ostler builds up to the big Western Languages towards the end of the book and then starts asking the big questions like "Why did German never take off as a World Language?"  Ostler seems to maintain the position that English's run as a world wide lingua franca is bound to come to the end, but I'm hard pressed to see what will succeed it on the world stage.  It seems to me that the internet might create some polyglot machine translation influenced successor language to English.  I don't know.

 

1 comment:

Brian Barker said...

I think that the choice of a future World Language is between English and Esperanto.

English must be opposed on grounds of "linguistic imperialism"

Interestingly the website http://www.lernu.net for example is enjoying 120,000 hits per month. That is certainly good :)

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