Sunday, July 19, 2009

What is Nicholas Ostler reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Nicholas Ostler, author of Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World and Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin.

His entry begins:
I'm reading Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, a novel from 1980 written in deformed, but in the end curiously readable, colloquial English, which speculates on Iron Age life in Kent some centuries after a nuclear apocalypse, as humanity is slowly but steadily building up a new path to power and self-destruction.

I grew up in Kent, so I wondered if I should recognize the locales, but it is set exclusively in East Kent, and with a geography deformed by flood, so all I can recognize is Cambry (Canterbury), whose Ardship (archbishop) is one of the characters.

I got into it because...[read on]
A scholar with a working knowledge of at least eighteen languages, Ostler has degrees from Oxford University in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics, and a Ph.D. in linguistics from MIT, where he studied under Noam Chomsky.

Read more about Ostler's Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin at the publisher's website. Among the praise for the book:
"Refreshingly, this book is serious and scholarly, though it wears its considerable learning lightly, and in a world of increasing Anglophone hegemony and globalization against a backdrop of the rapid extinction of thousands of languages, its implications are thought provoking."
—A.E. Stallings, American Scholar

"An impressively detailed account of how Latin has dominated later cultures and languages...Ostler provides a wonderfully geekish account of the intimate relationship between the empire and language of the Romans, and reminds us that there may be lessons for the English-speaking world in the history of the Latin language "
Emily Wilson,
Learn more about Nicholas Ostler at the Linguacubun website.

Writers Read: Nicholas Ostler.

--Marshal Zeringue