The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel

The Last Lingua Franca English Until the Return of Babel English is the world s lingua franca the most widely spoken language in human history And yet as historian and linguist Nicholas Ostler persuasively argues English will not only be displaced as the

  • Title: The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel
  • Author: Nicholas Ostler
  • ISBN: 9780802717719
  • Page: 210
  • Format: Hardcover
  • English is the world s lingua franca the most widely spoken language in human history And yet, as historian and linguist Nicholas Ostler persuasively argues, English will not only be displaced as the world s language in the not distant future, it will be the last lingua franca, not replaced by another.Empire, commerce, and religion have been the primary raisons d etre forEnglish is the world s lingua franca the most widely spoken language in human history And yet, as historian and linguist Nicholas Ostler persuasively argues, English will not only be displaced as the world s language in the not distant future, it will be the last lingua franca, not replaced by another.Empire, commerce, and religion have been the primary raisons d etre for lingua francas Greek, Latin, Arabic have all held the position and Ostler explores each through the lens of civilizations spanning the globe and history, from China and India to Russia and Europe Three trends emerge that suggest the ultimate decline of English and other lingua francas Movements throughout the world towards equality in society will downgrade the status of elites and since elites are the prime users of non native English, the language will gradually retreat to its native speaking territories The rising wealth of Brazil, Russia, India, and China will challenge the dominance of native English speaking nations thereby shrinking the international preference for English Simultaneously, new technologies will allow instant translation among major languages, enhacing the status of mother tongues and lessening the necessity for any future lingua franca.Ostler predicts a soft landing for English It will still be widely spoken, if no longer worldwide, sustained by America s continued power on the world stage But its decline will be both symbolic and significant, evidence of grand shifts in the cultural effects of empire The Last Lingua Franca is both an insightful examination of the trajectory of our own mother tongue and a fascinating lens through which to view the sweep of history.

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      Published :2019-02-24T16:28:39+00:00

    About "Nicholas Ostler"

    1. Nicholas Ostler

      Nicholas Ostler is a British scholar and author Ostler studied at Balliol College, Oxford, where he received degrees in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics He later studied under Noam Chomsky at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his Ph.D in linguistics and Sanskrit.His 2005 book Empires of the Word A Language History of the World documents the spread of language throughout recorded human history.His 2007 book Ad Infinitum A Biography of Latin looks specifically at the language of the Romans, both before and after the existence of their Empire The story focuses on the rise, spread, and dominance of Latin, both among other languages of the Italian peninsula in the early part of the 1st millennium BC and among the languages of Western Europe in the Dark Ages and beyond, presenting the life of Latin as any biographer would present the life of his subject With this book, Ostler provides a strong argument against the label dead language so often assigned to Latin However, the title, Ad Infinitum, refers not to this, but to his thesis that the Latin speaking world was unconscious of its own limits, looking always back to its centre, rather than outwards.He is currently the chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, and lives in Bath, England.

    651 thoughts on “The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel”

    1. My interest in languages and lingua-francas should be obvious. I'm a Welsh person who grew up in England and only really discovered my own country's culture when living there, doing a course in Welsh literature, through the medium of English (and it doesn't escape me that I did this module on a course called English Literature). I don't speak my mother-tongue -- and Welsh should've been my mother-tongue: only a generation ago, all my family spoke it and didn't learn English until secondary schoo [...]


    2. Well, don’t I feel all unoriginal. Here I was, prepared to critique this book’s extremely dry, technical style only to read some of the other reviews on and discover it is almost universally remarked upon. There goes that approach!To be fair, I was going to moderate my criticism by pointing out that if you are studying linguistics or have anything more than the passing interest in it that I do, then The Last Lingua Franca is the book for you. It could be a textbook for a linguistics class. [...]


    3. This book is so densely and dryly written that I had a hard time getting through it. I kept at it though because I was curious to find out his opinion as English as a lingua franca. (I guess that linguist/ESOL teacher in me was interested!) I'm not sure it was worth my time. I could have just read the first and third sections and skipped the middle section entirely. His answer? Yes, English is going to retreat into the background as Hindi/Urdu, Chinese, Portuguese (because of Brazil), and Russia [...]


    4. Dull, dry and tedious, with more focus on ancient history than current events, and a conclusion that is not supported by the text.In order to discuss the fate of English as a Lingua Franca, it makes sense to precisely define that term (which is done in the first few chapters) and it makes sense to study the fate of past lingua francas (which is done in most of the rest of the book.)After that, one could make an intelligent argument about what might happen to English as a Lingua Franca in the fut [...]


    5. "By the middle of this century, a global lingua-franca will no longer be needed. Language technology will take care of interpreting and translation, and foreign-language learning will be become an unnecessary chore.""International English will tend to die out, and English, like modern Greek, will find itself thrown back on heartlands where it is spoken natively."Interesting ideas that make me wonder whether I belong to the last generation of human translators.However, I would be surprised if tha [...]


    6. Really only for the language enthusiast. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it is admittingly somewhat dry, almost textbook style.


    7. The history in it is great, and I'm a big fan of Ostler's writing, but even as an MT technofuturist I find him overly optimistic in his time-frame for when (presumably non-interlingua) computer translation will make the concept of a lingua franca unimportant.


    8. As always, a masterful and deeply interesting setting out of historic language relations from this outstanding author. However, he does seem a little too optimistic about the possibilities of machine translation (to my mind) and his conclusions based on this are the least extensively argued part of an otherwise excellent book.


    9. Oh man, this book was a slog. I wanted to like it. I was very excited initially: at last a book about English's future as a world-wide 'lingua franca'. Will it continue to grow and flourish? Will it be replaced by some other language? Or will new technologies render the very need for a lingua franca obsolete? These are all questions the author promises to tackle.And tackle them he does. Eventually. But in between the opening and closing sections, most relevant to his thesis, he has sandwiched a [...]


    10. The English language is unquestionably dominant across our modern world. Whilst Chinese may boast more speakers, no other language has the reach or the cultural clout. But will it last? Nicholas Ostler thinks not, and by examining the lives of other lingua francas he intends to show the patterns which lead languages to rise and fall, whilst simultaneously questioning whether a lingua franca is necessary at all.It's an interesting idea, which is what drew me to the book in the first place, but un [...]


    11. "The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel", by Nicholas Ostler, is a book whose basic thesis is in the title and subtitle.This is the first book I know of where he has to get straight with the reader what plural is going to be used for "lingua franca". After considering "lingue franche" and "linguae francae", he settles on "lingua-francas". It's a convention that is unlikely to catch on, if only because I doubt many other people will be discussing lingua-francas by the batch oft [...]


    12. Nagdalawang-isip ako bago ko nga tuluyang binili ang aklat na ito, dulot ng di gaano nito kataas na rating at ng mga negatibong review. Taliwas sa mga narama ng ilang mga nagsulat ng negatibong review, hindi ako nabato habang binabasa ang aklat na ito; sa katunayan, di ko inasahang magiging tutok na tutok ako rito at di ko rin inasahang mahihirapan akong iwanan nang kahit sandali lamang ang aklat na ito.Maraming nagrereklamong nakakabato raw ang aklat na ito. Marahil may punto sila, lalo na ang [...]


    13. Good book with a terrible title. This book isn't really about English, but it IS about lingua francas. A lingua franca is a nonnative language used to communicate with others who do not speak the same native language as you. English is clearly the dominant lingua franca on the planet today. However, this book is a history of lingua francas. So you get Sanskrit, Persian, and Latin primarily, plus a few others here and there. Ostler studies why these languages became lingua francas and why they st [...]


    14. English is a global lingua franca (a language used for communication by people for none of whom it is native). There have been many other linguae francae in the past, but they have stopped being such, and went back to being used only by the native speakers. In the late 19th and early 20th century, German was the international language of science; it ceased to be that when Hitler fired all the non-Aryan German professors, many of whom went to Great Britain and the United States, and started publi [...]


    15. Remarkable overview of lingua francas, languages used across cultures for trade, religion, or government. Examples are Latin, Persian, Sogdian (!), and of course English. Christianity began in Aramaic (which Christ spoke), was written in Greek (the prestige lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean), converted to Latin (because of Rome), and finally vernacular languages. Vernacular languages are the most permanent. Lingua francas can disappear rapidly when the motivation behind them changes; se [...]


    16. A long, sprawling account of lingua francas around the world, used as case studies in an attempt to discern the future of English, the most successful such language in human history. The final argument -- that when English ends its run as global lingua franca, everyone will communicate in their own languages with technological translation aids -- seems somewhat utopian, but I can't really find a fatal flaw when you take the long view on this. Of course, regardless of what you feel about that arg [...]


    17. Admittedly I didn't finish reading The Last Lingua Franca (requiring only a number of sections for academic purposes), but I can say from what I have read that for anybody interested in the role of English as a lingua franca, the assessment of previous lingua franca's and what the future may bode for lingua franca's, this is a must read! Ostler's argument is that in the future, when English ceases to be a lingua franca, the role of the lingua franca will cease (which, in my opinion, is a nice th [...]


    18. As a pathetic, drooling monoglot, I sink down in awe before someone who can talk intelligently about the rise of Sogdian, the decline of Persian, and the relationship between Tuscan and Umbrian. Some of it is pretty dense, and pretty obscurely related to the thesis, which is that the deathless tongue of Shakespeare probably has at best a century to go as a major global language and two or three more as a known language at all. But there's lots of good stuff in here: the comparison between Swahil [...]


    19. I put my name down for this book at the library ages ago, relying on several glowing reviews, and the fact that the subject matter is of particular interest to me. In the meantime, I bought a copy of another of his books, Empires of the Word:A Language History of the World. And I’ve been struggling with it intermittently for months. This guy is a difficult read; can’t really put my finger on why, but my brain just wants to escape after 20 pages or so. There are some interesting facts, but ha [...]


    20. Agree with many others that I found the book quite dry and was a real struggle to get through it. He seemed to rehash many ideas over and over again (book could of been half as long in my opinion) especially in the last chapter which I was sure was almost paragraph for paragraph in some sections.Its strange, that being a history lover as I am that I could not get into this read. I also found his conclusion that "technology" will ultimately be its death of global English to be a little bit underw [...]


    21. I heard of this book in an article from the National Review, which also added a good reason not to buy the book: "Who cares if English “will gradually retreat to its native-speaking territories”? Gloating over the widespread use of English smacks of imperial triumphalism. Sure, it’s great if I need a cab in New Delhi and the cabbie speaks English, but if he didn’t what’s it to us?"I don't know. Personally, I think it looks interesting.


    22. Linguistics expert Ostler advances the contention that in an ever-tech crazy world that the traditional "lingua franca" (i.e. a language that serves higher level functions across many nations) is doomed to extinction and that International English is the next victim. His reasoning is based on the death of past L.F.s including Latin and various Asian tongues. It's a mighty reach and the book is not entirely convincing. This is a treat for linguists. Not so much for the layman.


    23. Very scholarly as always, but somewhat less readable than "Empires of the Word" and "Ad Infinitum" . . . or so it seemed to me. Perhaps the problem is that the status of English as a world lingua franca and the history and fates of other such languages are topics that interest me far less than, say, the history of Latin . . . . Still, a very good book overall, if you like linguistics . . .


    24. After a raft of self-congratulatory "how English dominates the world" books, it is refreshing to see one more thoughtfully explain how recently English achieved that status, the speed and mechanisms with which others (Persian, Akkadian, Latin, Arabic) have lost it and the speculative linguistic future is always interesting.


    25. This is the latest from Nicholas Ostler, after writing about Latin and its fate in his previous book "Ad Infinitum" he tackles the present and the future of English in the world. To anybody who wants to see what the future of English is going to be I recommend to "like" BBC World Have Your Say on Facebook and read the comments.


    26. I found myself losing the thread of the discussion in some parts of the book. I think it may also have helped had I more familiarity with Middle Eastern languages, as the author looks into Persian and Aramaic languages quite a bit.


    27. I'm writing this review a good number of months since I've read the original. If I remember correctly, there is as much history of other lingua francas as there is talk of English. The part about lingua francas becoming unimportant because of machine translation is overly optimistic.


    28. Some really interesting history of lingua francas, but overall a bit too dense, and I found his conclusion silly. He admits that machine translation hasn't made as much progress as was expected, but that in 50 years it will so advanced that we won't need a lingua franca anymore.


    29. I don’t agree with many of his precepts and suppositions, and the book is so repetitive and dry. The historical aspects of the story are interesting, though. And, machine translation will never take the place of human translation – sorry.


    30. Astonishing assessment of the roles and lives of lingua francas throughout time, with emphasis to how English, the world's current lingua franca, will fair in the future.


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