Defeat! I admit defeat, Nicholas Ostler! Empires of the Word sounds like such a fantastic book in theory — and much of it was great — it was so dense I barely made it halfway through before I started rifling through the pages to find bits I thought would be more interesting.
The problem is that Ostler tends to assume his audience knows what the hell a diphthong is, or that they are fully cognizant of the history of Eastern Europe (or the Middle East, or South America, or…) It’s flattering, but in a very similar way to my college professors, ultimately useless. I’m wondering if I missed something in the middle about the way words are meant to be pronounced, what the generally accepted definition of “closely related words” is, and possibly a brief primer on the history of the world.
Whatever I did understand was extremely interesting, though, and I only wish I’d got to the chapter regarding the future of the English language. I think I ended up stuck somewhere on the spread of English in India and then I had to return the books.
Although it’s not as if reading material is scarce around here…
By the way, here’s something spectacular a friend of mine sent me: http://htwins.net/scale2/scale2.swf?bordercolor=black
Definitely puts things in perspective. And by things, I mean everything. See for yourself.