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The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel

3.33 of 5 stars 3.33  ·  rating details  ·  93 ratings  ·  25 reviews
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 for
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Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 23rd 2010 by Walker & Company (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 335)
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Nikki
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 ...more
Laura
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 ...more
Ed Erwin
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
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Daan
"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
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Ken
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.
Benjamin Pearson
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
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Ilya
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 ...more
Adriana
É disto que estou falando todos esses anos. Não vou deixar de usar minha linguagem só porque poucos entendem, se me dou ao trabalho de tentar entender a língua dos outros o mínimo que estes podem fazer é tentar entender a minha. E não,obviamente não estou falando apenas da linguagem falada. Nada mais acalanta o coração utópico do que todos terem o direito de falarem a língua que lhes aprouver e ao mesmo tempo todos se entenderem mutualmente em suas singularidades. Seria uma coisa linda se os mot ...more
Tom
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
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George Corley
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 ...more
Felix Purat
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 ...more
Diana Sandberg
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 hard t ...more
Richard
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 ...more
Angela Alcorn
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.
Kelly Korby
Really only for the language enthusiast. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it is admittingly somewhat dry, almost textbook style.
Colin
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 . . .
Steven
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.
Margaret Sankey
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.
Matthew
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.
Ellen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tasha
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.
Fjola
Really really interesting! Made me think, and still does. Often when I use English slang words, I think, what if another language (for instance Arabic) were the lingua franca?
Matthew Graham
Very interesting stuff about the history of Persian as a lingua-franca. Main argument also holds together well.
Ratalouie
Couldn't get through it.. may try again later, but it was a library book.
Gwen
Apr 16, 2012 Gwen marked it as to-read
Source: Marginal Revolution
Library: 420.9 Ostl, Shirlington
Melissa
Melissa marked it as to-read
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Michael
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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
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