An in-depth biography of the Latin language from its very beginnings to the present day from the widely acclaimed author of ‘Empires of the Word’.The Latin language has been a constant in the cultural history of the West for over two millennia. It has shaped the way we think of ourselves and of our (central) place in the world. It has formed and united us as Europeans, has been the foundation of our education for centuries and defined the way in which we express our thoughts, our faith and our knowledge of the workings of the world. And yet, Latin began life as the cumbersome dialect of a small southern Italian city-state.Its active use lasted three times as long as Rome's Empire and its use echoes on in the law codes of half the world, in terminologies of biology and medicine, and until forty years ago in the litany of the Catholic Church, the most populous form of Christianity.In ‘Ad Infinitum’, Nicholas Ostler examines the reasons why Latin made such a long-lasting impact on language, and how it managed to stay alive for two millennia despite the cultural superiority of Greek. He will look at how Latin's sturdy roots remained untouched while empires rose and fell, the influence of religion, war and the ways it has progressed through medieval times right up until the present day.
An unusual and authoritative 'natural history of languages' that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another at different times in history.The story of the world in the last five thousand years is above all the story of its languages.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.