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The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  155 Ratings  ·  35 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
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 23rd 2010 by Walker & Company (first published 2010)
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Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
Ben Babcock
Apr 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Well, don’t I feel all unoriginal. Here I was, prepared to critique this book’s extremely dry, technical style … only to read some of the other reviews on Goodreads and discover it is almost universally remarked upon. There goes that approach!

To be fair, I was going to moderate my criticism by pointing out that if you are studying linguistics or have anything more than the passing interest in it that I do, then The Last Lingua Franca is the book for you. It could be a textbook for a linguistics
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: linguistics
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
"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
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Kelly Korby
Mar 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Really only for the language enthusiast. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it is admittingly somewhat dry, almost textbook style.
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
As always, a masterful and deeply interesting setting out of historic language relations from this outstanding author. However, he does seem a little too optimistic about the possibilities of machine translation (to my mind) and his conclusions based on this are the least extensively argued part of an otherwise excellent book.
Dec 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Andrew Fish
Jul 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
The English language is unquestionably dominant across our modern world. Whilst Chinese may boast more speakers, no other language has the reach or the cultural clout. But will it last? Nicholas Ostler thinks not, and by examining the lives of other lingua francas he intends to show the patterns which lead languages to rise and fall, whilst simultaneously questioning whether a lingua franca is necessary at all.

It's an interesting idea, which is what drew me to the book in the first place, but un
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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...