Book Reviews Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. By nicholas ostler. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. 640 pp. $29.95 (cloth). In 1995 the Journal of World History (vol. 6, no. 2) published an article of ours, "Language Death, Language Genesis, and World History," in which we asserted that world historians were in need of a new source of data and suggested that they look at language, specifically what we described as solid areal and historical linguistics. This field, like the study of infectious diseases, is more receptive to quantitative analysis than many others. That is, one can sometimes find out with some degree of accuracy how many people are speaking a given language at a given time just as one can find out how many have tuberculosis. And linguistic practice, like our immune systems, often survives noisy ideology and fashion. As an example of questions worth exploring, we suggested historians seek to find out how many languages were spoken in a given area in a given year and how that compared with the situation a decade and a century before and after. Then, steadied with factual ballast, we might take the time to ask why
Journal of World History – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Aug 5, 2006
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