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Ad Infinitum

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  248 ratings  ·  48 reviews
The Latin language has been the one constant in the cultural history of the West for more than two millennia. It has been the foundation of our education, and has defined the way in which we express our thoughts, our faith, and our knowledge of how the world functions. Indeed, the language has proved far more enduring than its empire in Rome, its use echoing on in the law
Published November 5th 2007 by HarperPress
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Andrew Fish
How do you tell the story of a language? For this book, the answer is to tell the story of the events which gave it rise, propagated it, caused it to evolve and ultimately killed it. From the way you can tell the unrecorded history of ancient migrations and early conflicts through the relationships between languages, through to the popularisation of the nation state and its vernacular, this is a broad-reaching story.

Along the way there are some surprising twists on what we are usually told. So t
Better on tidbits than on the big picture, this book tries to cover too much in too little space and ends up reading at times like a textbook: superficial summaries of vast swathes of history about which you'd rather know more--or just nothing at all.

All the same, several of the tidbits are interesting:

1. in the Middle Ages, a classroom text colorfully depicted the Seven Liberal Arts as having distinct personalities. I particularly like the description of Grammar:

"Grammatica is an old lady with
Dichotomy Girl
I am not a linguist, and I have little to no knowledge of Latin, so I am just about as far away from the intended audience for this book that one can be. I checked out the e-book, on a whim, because it sounded interesting. And it was, in parts, unfortunately the other parts usually made my eyes bleed. I do not necessarily blame the author for this, it was just too much for my poor little ignorant brain.

Nevertheless, the sections on the influence of Christianity was particularly interesting.

But i
Seumas Macdonald
A fine overview of the history of Latin. Well-written, non-specialist. Opens up whole fields of reflection for classical latin enthusiasts to contemplate, and a few intriguing observations about language dominance, survival, diffusion, and decay.
Latin was an IE language spoken in a small area in Central Italy in mid-first millennium BCE. It shared certain features with other IE languages of Italy; for example, the proto-IE consonant bh became f: "bhrater" became "frater", similar to how in Cockney English "things" turn into "fings"; the sound f was also common in the principal non-IE language of Italy, Etruscan. Latin was about as far from the principal Italic IE language of South Italy, Oscan, as Spanish is from Portuguese. The Etrusca ...more
Nicholas Ostler's book is a history of the Latin language from the early Roman state and the Etruscans to the 21st century. As a person who took two years of classical Latin in high school, learned medieval/church Latin as an altar boy, and have periodicaly brushed up on the language, I found the book of great interest. There is much about the development of Romance languages and English. For instance, Latin has six cases and three genders for nouns, reduced to one or two cases and two genders i ...more
This is a book that somewhat puzzles me--how did Ostler write his book proposal? I can't quite figure out the audience--it must be people like me, who are well-educated, but feel some inadequacy in their lack of classical learning. But I get the sense that a true classicist would be bored by it. And even as an academic without training in Latin, much of the historical context is well-known. That's not to say there aren't gems hidden within, and as a non-specialist, I did appreciate the greater e ...more
This is a really good overview of the Latin language which traces its evolution through nearly three centuries of continuous use – albeit in different forms, by different groups, and, especially, for vastly different purposes. Ostler is a trained linguist who, along with David Crystal and Stephen Pinker, has helped to bring the fruits of recent advances in linguistics to a wider audience (his most well-known work being the scholarly but accessible to the lay reader "Empires of the Word.") It is ...more
Sep 22, 2010 Laura rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Chris
Finally finished it! My interest in Latin is mostly in the language in a synchronic framework; I've never been that interested in Roman history, though I recognize how important it is. The author writes in great detail about the vocabulary and structure (particularly the vocabulary) of Latin as it was spoken in the lands of the Roman Empire and why it developed the way it did, which is up my alley. He also spends a lot of time on the role of Latin in post-Roman European education... the sort of ...more
Nicholas Ostler’s AD INFINITUM: A BIOGRAPHY OF LATIN is exactly what it says it is—a biography of Latin from 750 B.C. to the present. Ostler considers some of the languages and influences that affected the early development of Latin, the spread of Latin and its function as the language of the Roman Empire, the changes that came to Latin when it became the language of the Church, the development of vernacular languages, and many other topics. AD INFINITUM is a fascinating book based on deep schol ...more
Given to me by my mother, Christmas 2007.

A scholarly but readable take on the lengthy history of the Latin tongue.

I immensely enjoyed the early stages of the book, as it pertained to the early development of Latin as a tribal dialect of Latium, wildly influenced in the world of commerce and daily life by Etruscan, and then battered with a Greek stick.

The rise of the Church and its use of Latin was the height of the book for me... and then it feel off, much like the language itself did into warin
Tom Adams
Very complete and detailed history of one of the West's major languages. Ostler is a very accomplished linguist (the jacket blurb said he is conversant with 18 different languages) and is exhaustive in his treatment (380+ pp. total, copious footnotes on majority of pages, 26 pp. of end notes). Though somewhat dense - mainly because of the wealth of information presented - Ostler's prose is also pleasant and full of interesting insights into the different peoples who are part of his story. In rea ...more
Christine Couvillon
I thought this book would be good and I'm inherently interested in history and Latin (as a former student of both history and the language). But this book was so caught up in detailed footnotes and lists of words that it failed to effectively tell an over-arching story. The writing did not provide a coherent analysis of the development of the language and did not track the language's history in an interesting way. It was obviously well-researched, but after reading other linguistic histories of ...more
An incredibly interesting history lesson on the Latin language. Ostler tackles the influence of the Etruscan and Greek languages on Latin, why Latin was such an influential language, how Christianity played a role in the spread and survival of Latin, how the "Romance" languages came about, why Latin stuck around for so long, and ultimately why Latin went away as a universal language. This is a great, if not always quick, read and a nice way to geek out on communication through history, and it ma ...more
Dec 29, 2012 Lori marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
For Sarah,
A tidbit from this book. The Seven Liberal Arts from medieval texts were described as personalities. This is the description for Grammar.

"Grammatica is an old lady with highly polished manners, and various surgical appliances, such as a scalpel to excise the vices in children's tongues, an inky powder that could heal the same, and an extremely sharp medicine ... to be applied to the throat in case of fetid burps brought on by unschooled boorishness."
2,500 years of history as seen through the lens of Latin as its evolved with the historic changes in its speakers. As such, it is a reflection of both wars and leisure, and thus a surprisingly effective way to view the centuries. Ostler writes with equal fluency in both the historian's and linguist's vein, with plenty of anecdote to leaven the technical turns. If you like language and appreciate Latin, this is a grand guide to the humanity behind its shifts.
Thorough outline of the origins, developments, uses and consequences of one language. Considers political history, literature, church implementation and reforms, rise of Romance languages, and spread to "New World." Copious footnotes tracing sources and extensive commentary on historical guides and training manuals, to ask "What was / is Latin and what was/is it used for?"
Molly Brodak
Like so many armchair histories, this one runs a little too fast for me, especially through the most interesting part--the very early history. But ok, I understand that this most interesting part is also the part that is the least documented/understood. Still, it was well-written and very compelling, although a bit heavy on the duller, later centuries.
I quite enjoyed that. Enough so that I'm putting it in my linguistics archive. Interesting as a history but also a conversation on the role of language in identity.
setting this one aside for a bit. i only read about a third of it and lost interest. that could be my own fault. i'm distracted by many things right now. i don't think this is an intrinsically bad book, nor even a boring one. i'm just not in the correct frame of mind to deal with it at the moment.

i'll return and read this later.
Christina Feindt
This was actually kind of interesting. It was kind of fascinating to learn how we ended up with Latin as the predominant language root rather than any of the other zillion languages that have come and gone through history. I was left with the idea that it was pretty much politics and coincidence that made it happen. I'm glad I read it.
Margaret Sankey
For Latin students who learned it a single "correct" way--a refreshing biography of a language that rose from obscurity, plundered the vocabulary and verb formation of its Etruscan, Greek and Celtic neighbors to become the flexible, hard-working, multi-purpose language of laws, military operations and religious hierarchy.
This is a very good read. Exactly what was promised on the dust jacket. I agree with many other comments but if you have any interest in languages this is a great book. If you were hoping for a book of Latin bon mot, probably look somewhere else. This is a broad history with a few deep pit stops.
Hit and miss. Books about language histories and development for the layman are hard to come by so you sort of settle when one comes along. Some parts here are quite interesting, others read like the driest of textbooks complete with all the glazed over eyes such implies. 2.5 stars
If you can stick with it you will learn much of what is to know of Latin from 750BC to the translating of two Harry Potter books. There is much that is interesting to the layman but also, for the layman, it has more than you really wanted to know.
Brad Koegler
I'm torn. There was a hell of a lot of what seemed like gratuitous Roman history here (it's a book about the language, dammit!), but I'm not sure how much of it you could have excised without losing a reader who wasn't as up on Rome.
Chelsea Rowe
The author's passion is evident in this book. His love of Latin comes through on every page. Adequate enough to offer insight into the evolution of Latin without needing to be a scholar to follow the path Mr. Ostler weaves.
Good so far, but hard to follow while doped up on pain killers. Maybe it will improve as my incisions heal.

It did improve along with my lucidity, and I found it enjoyable to read and informative.
James Murray
interesting read although it seems the author is really more interested in greek than latin. A clever trick to force me to read about his greek passion by disquising it as a book about latin!
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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 th
More about Nicholas Ostler...
Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel Endangered Languages: What Role For The Specialist?: Proceedings Of The Second Fel Conference Held At The Pollock Halls, University Of Edinburgh, 25 27 September 1998 Passwords to Paradise: How Languages Have Re-invented World Religions The Way of the Trumpet

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