Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler


This is a long and rich history of the spread of the major languages of the world, past and present. It tries to explain why some languages spread, and others did not, why some languages persisted, while others became extinct. Some languages that were very important at one time, such as Egyptian, have faded away, while others, such as Chinese, are still here.

Middle East

Ostler describes how the ancient language Sumerian (written in cuneiform) was replaced about two thousand B.C. by the Semitic language Akkadian (spoken by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and also written in cuneiform). Akkadian itself was later replaced about six hundred years B.C. by another Semitic language, Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Middle East, before the Arab conquests.


  • Akkadian
  • Amharic
  • Arabic
  • Aramaic
  • Hebrew
  • Phoenician (which gave us its alphabet)
  • Tigre


Afroasiatic is a superfamily of Semitic that also includes:

  • Berber
  • Chadic (Hausa)
  • Cushitic (Oromo, Somali)
  • Egyptian (Coptic)
  • Omotic

Iranian Languages

  • Balochi (Baluchi)
  • Dari
  • Kurdish
  • Parthian (Pahlavi)
  • Persian (Farsi)
  • Pashto
  • Scythian (Ossetian)
  • Sogdian (Yaghnobi)
  • Tajiki


Ostler discusses the spread of the Aryan language Sanskrit into India, and its incorporation of the retroflex (tongue turned back) consonants from the indigenous Dravidian languages (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam).


The national language of Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia, is based on Malay, not Javanese. Malay had been used as a language of traders before the Dutch arrived. The Dutch used it as a medium for communicating with the Indonesians, rather than impose Dutch on the them. Javanese was not a good candidate for a national language, since it is much more complicated than Malay.

Pre-Columbian America

I was surprised to learn that some pre-Columbian languages are still widely spoken: Nahuatl in Mexico,  the Incan Quechua in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, and Guarani in Paraguay. Guarani was preserved largely due to the efforts of Jesuit missionaries. The language is called Chiriguano in Bolivia and Tupinamba in Brazil.

Similarities Between Chinese and English

The author points out some interesting similarities between Chinese and English: (a) the lack of inflection, (b) the large amount of memorization required (English spelling, Chinese characters), and (c) the subject-verb-object word order.


Londonistan by Melanie Phillips


Londonistan by Melanie Phillips

Muslim Immigration

The author describes how Great Britain, and London in particular, have become a haven for Muslim immigrants, including jihadists. Laws protecting those seeking asylum from religious and political persecution in their home countries have been used by immigration advocates to prevent the deportation of economic migrants and terrorists.

Great Britain As a Haven for Jihadists

  • The Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, established in 1993, opposes the Saudi monarchy, because it is not sufficiently Islamist
  • Mohammed al-Massari, a Saudi Arabian dissident who helped set up al-Qaeda’s office in London
  • The Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, whose British branch was founded in 1986 by Syrian-born Omar Bakri Mohammed, promotes the restoration of the Muslim caliphate
  • The Wahhabi organization Al-Muntada al-Islami Trust of West London that promotes violence against Christians in Nigeria
  • The Deobandi offshoot Tablighi Jamaat, whose European headquarters is in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, and which also has a branch in the United States that is a source of recruits for al-Qaeda
  • London-based Tunisian politician Rashid al-Ghannushi, a Jewish conspiracy theorist
  • Muslim Association of Britain (founded by Kamal el-Helbawy, member of the Muslim Brotherhood)
  • Abu Hamza (al-Masri), former imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque, who helped plan terrorist and kidnapping attacks on British targets in Yemen by the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army
  • The Salafist Abu Qatada (al-Filistini) of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) of Algeria

Prince Charles

Prince Charles is a patron of the Centre for Islamic Studies of Oxford and a proponent of building the Finsbury Park mosque in London. He believes that Great Britain has much to learn from the religion of Islam. He has often traveled to Arab countries, but has never even once visited Israel.

The European Union and the Human Rights Act of 1998

The defenders of the Muslim invasion of Britain are also weakening traditional British common law, replacing it with directives from unelected bureaucrats of the European Union. The British Human Rights Act of 1998 implements the European Convention on Human Rights. Many British judges have expanded the application of human rights law so that antisocial behavior is now protected.

Fear of Being Labeled Racist

The British Left has made the police afraid to use force against Black criminals, for fear of being called racist. This hobbling of the police was then expanded to protect law-breaking Muslims. In fact, the police often feel compelled to protect the rights of offended minorities to assault people who speak critically of minorities. The police even punish their own for uttering Islamophobic remarks.

The Difference Between the Jihadists and the Irish Republican Army

The author makes the interesting point that the jihadists differ from the IRA in the respect that the IRA seeks only a unified Ireland, and not to convert Britain to Roman Catholicism.