Shop now Shop now Shop now  Up to 50% Off Fashion  Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Listen with Prime Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars10
4.7 out of 5 stars
5 star
7
4 star
3
3 star
0
2 star
0
1 star
0

Your rating(Clear)Rate this item
Share your thoughts with other customers

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

Nicholas Ostler has a wide and deep knowledge of linguistics and language history which he brings to bear in this book. Sometimes when he strays outside his area of expertise things can become a little dubious.

In considering the question of why descendants of Latin remain in Europe but not in Britain, Ostler suggests several possible reasons but seems to go for the belief (he's far from the first to suggest it) that the mid-6th century plague which hit Europe de-populated the Romano-British areas leaving the English to take over. He adduces the "evidence" of Y-chromosome data to "support" this (amongst the "English" it is the same gene, amongst the "Celts" it is different), which misunderstands what the data is saying. For one thing, taken as a whole, the genes of the "English" are 85-90% the same as the genes of the pre-English population. Secondly, a group of English males could have taken British wives rather than English men and women taking over depopulated territory (we are to believe that the English first came over as a mercenary army). No doubt petty nationalism will make these arguments run and run. Apart from all this, the plague was Europe-wide with no apparent special circumstances in Britain; so why didn't exactly the same issue hit continental Europe? And why didn't it hit the English equally? Where is the evidence that Latin was ever widely spoken in Britain anyway?

Ostler notes that on a global scale, Latin is a unique instance of where vernacular forms of a language have developed their own written forms (compare Arabic and Chinese where even though there are several very different spoken forms of the language, the written language is always the "standard" language). He attributes this partly to the Latin bible and partly to the reforms of the Carolingian renaissance. Initially the pronunciation of Latin changed locally in the same way as the local vernaculars (Spanish Latin being pronounced the same as Spanish and so on). This meant that the recitation of the bible could be largely understood by vernacular speakers. The reforms of Alcuin to standardise the pronunciation of Latin through Europe to the presumed classical pronunciation meant that the bible was no longer understood, creating an impetus to develop local written languages. Ostler also suggests that the fact that English, Irish, Welsh & German had their own written forms may also have given the Romance speakers the idea, which begs the question of what had previously inspired them? History is full of examples of civilisations using other, often very different and alien, languages for their written communication rather than inventing writing for their own. Developing writing, even if a system exists capable of doing it, always seems to be a hurdle.

One of the most fascinating sections is on the mediaeval translation movement to translate works from Arabic and Greek into Latin. Ostler discusses the major obstacles Latin faced, not just in terms of vocabulary but also with some quite fundamental restrictions in such things as the lack of certain verbal forms and syntactical constructions. For example even the verb "esse" (to be) lacked certain verbal forms which were needed to be able to properly translate the works; these had to be invented, such as "futurus" for a future participle. Ostler suggests in a footnote that prudishness may also have been a hindrance - he coyly remarks that the root "futu-", a form of "esse", is very rude in Latin. To fill in the gap for you, it has the same meaning as an English four letter word also beginning with "f". I have often wondered why "Greek" knowledge never really percolated westward through the Roman empire until carried by the Arabs at a much later date. Could language have been the barrier? Were Arabic and Greek superior vehicles for philosophical ventures which Latin couldn't provide without a major effort of lingustic borrowing and invention?

A good read, but keep an open mind about some intepretations presented here.
0Comment|16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 15 March 2010
Ad Infinitum is a splendid life history, compilation and guide, every page intense, stimulating deep interest. It is a fascinating compendium of relevant facts about language, in no way limited to Latin or languages derived from Latin; a history of European (and in many ways world) civilisation, of exploration, of cultural and scientific development. It is full of coruscating gems of captivating facts and unusual linkages. By calling this work a biography (and writing it with that substantive in focus) Nicholas Ostler endows it with the extra appeal that a person has over and above an abstract concept, deriving from their lovable idiosyncrasies, their personality, their individual life and vitality.
Ostler covers a huge range of fields, including education, books, libraries and book-making, rhetoric and linguistic analysis, monastic organisation, the influence of the church on civil society. On our journey of discovery he introduces a host of figures whose intellectual achievements have changed our ways of thinking, and writing. He provides his readers with persuasive explanation of how the urgent need to make meaningful statements leads to economical expression, with concision being by no means an enemy of elegance; and he does it with mastery of his own language, expression and story, painting with enviable balance an absorbing and densely realistic picture of evolving societies.
This is a book to appreciate; to attend to, as you would to a highly erudite and likeable guide; to mull over and digest; to learn from; but, more than all those things, it is a stimulus to learn and understand more deeply. Ostler opens a window onto a world which still, after 2 millennia, merits further exploration.
0Comment|9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Nicholas Ostler has a wide and deep knowledge of linguistics and language history which he brings to bear in this book. Sometimes when he strays outside his area of expertise things can become a little dubious.

In considering the question of why descendants of Latin remain in Europe but not in Britain, Ostler suggests several possible reasons but seems to go for the belief (he's far from the first to suggest it) that the mid-6th century plague which hit Europe de-populated the Romano-British areas leaving the English to take over. He adduces the "evidence" of Y-chromosome data to "support" this (amongst the "English" it is the same gene, amongst the "Celts" it is different), which misunderstands what the data is saying. For one thing, taken as a whole, the genes of the "English" are 85-90% the same as the genes of the pre-English population. Secondly, a group of English males could have taken British wives rather than English men and women taking over depopulated territory (we are to believe that the English first came over as a mercenary army). No doubt petty nationalism will make these arguments run and run. Apart from all this, the plague was Europe-wide with no apparent special circumstances in Britain; so why didn't exactly the same issue hit continental Europe? And why didn't it hit the English equally? Where is the evidence that Latin was ever widely spoken in Britain anyway?

Ostler notes that on a global scale, Latin is a unique instance of where vernacular forms of a language have developed their own written forms (compare Arabic and Chinese where even though there are several very different spoken forms of the language, the written language is always the "standard" language). He attributes this partly to the Latin bible and partly to the reforms of the Carolingian renaissance. Initially the pronunciation of Latin changed locally in the same way as the local vernaculars (Spanish Latin being pronounced the same as Spanish and so on). This meant that the recitation of the bible could be largely understood by vernacular speakers. The reforms of Alcuin to standardise the pronunciation of Latin through Europe to the presumed classical pronunciation meant that the bible was no longer understood, creating an impetus to develop local written languages. Ostler also suggests that the fact that English, Irish, Welsh & German had their own written forms may also have given the Romance speakers the idea, which begs the question of what had previously inspired them? History is full of examples of civilisations using other, often very different and alien, languages for their written communication rather than inventing writing for their own. Developing writing, even if a system exists capable of doing it, always seems to be a hurdle.

One of the most fascinating sections is on the mediaeval translation movement to translate works from Arabic and Greek into Latin. Ostler discusses the major obstacles Latin faced, not just in terms of vocabulary but also with some quite fundamental restrictions in such things as the lack of certain verbal forms and syntactical constructions. For example even the verb "esse" (to be) lacked certain verbal forms which were needed to be able to properly translate the works; these had to be invented, such as "futurus" for a future participle. Ostler suggests in a footnote that prudishness may also have been a hindrance - he coyly remarks that the root "futu-", a form of "esse", is very rude in Latin. To fill in the gap for you, it has the same meaning as an English four letter word also beginning with "f". I have often wondered why "Greek" knowledge never really percolated westward through the Roman empire until carried by the Arabs at a much later date. Could language have been the barrier? Were Arabic and Greek superior vehicles for philosophical ventures which Latin couldn't provide without a major effort of lingustic borrowing and invention?

A good read, but keep an open mind about some intepretations presented here.
11 comment|6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 November 2008
An African Goddess once answered the question: How to save the environment? Her answer, through her Oracle: "Know the history of the people!". This book touches its light everywhere across the history of Europe, tracing roots and connections, dispelling shadows, making it make sense. For Latin is everywhere, hiding just beneath the surface of our cultures, and often slipping into plain view even in the most Germanic of contexts. Ostler does a brilliant job of explaining the creation of Latin in the crucible of early Rome, its remarkable spread, its extraordinary persistence, its transmutation from the language of the state, elite and army to that of the church, scholar and romantic. Also, how the glamour of Latin infested the originators of local successor languages, further colouring the European spirit. There are also nuggets of surprise: for example, why is Britain the only former Roman colony in western Europe to speak a Germanic rather than a Latin language? The answer: sixth-century plague amongst the resident Latin-speakers, followed by invasions of Angles, Saxons and other German-speaking language snatchers. Another mystery solved! And this wonderful book, amplifying messages in Ostler's global masterpiece Empires of the Word, is just the thing for making other deep discoveries on a dark winter's night.
0Comment|5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 24 March 2012
This is an excellent work, packed with information and insight, and a far better treatment of the subject that Tore Janson's 'A Natural History of Latin', which is something of a pot pourri.
There is an impressive grasp of history and linguistics in the scholarship here, which is lightly worn, so this book should appeal not only to that rather specialised circle of classicists but also to historians of the Middle Ages and the Western Church and to people with an interest in Romance languages and historical linguistics. The history of Latin in "Latin" America included here is a fascinating subject in itself. I am coming back to this book for a second read, having recently finished Ostler's magnum opus, 'Empire of the Word', some themes from which this work helpfully supplements and develops.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 4 May 2014
This was a thoroughly scholarly work and answered a lot of the questions that have been nagging me since my schooldays. The chapter on the conquest of Latin America is especially relevant for me as I am currently touring the area: especially the bit about the similarities of Latin and Spanish to Nahuatl and Quechua.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 28 February 2015
Good, thanks.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 28 April 2009
A rare basic etymology of Latin.

Who knew that crapulus was a hangover in Etruscan!
0Comment|2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 27 March 2013
This is an excellent book. Articulate, well spoken, fascinating, engaging, not a labour to read, would suit all levels of interest
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 23 December 2009
My grandson is learning Latin, and since the rest of his family did not study the language, this should be an interesting addition to their books. It gives details of its history, influence on modern languages and definitions of many Latin phrases in everyday use.
0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)