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A Chat With Nicholas Ostler

Date:Apr 8, 2008
Time:12 noon Pacific (GMT -7)
Topic:The life (and death) of languages
Duration:One hour

Transcript follows the speaker introduction

Nicholas Ostler has been involved in language history, research and development all his life. He is Chairman of the non-profit Foundation for Endangered Languages. Most recently, he has written Empires of the Word, a language history of the world and Ad Infinitum, a Biography of Latin.

Nicholas grew up in the south-east of England, studying Sanskrit, Greek and Latin at school, classics and Indo-European philology, then logic and economics for his BA at Oxford, and theoretical linguistics for his PhD at MIT, where his thesis worked out a new approach to case grammar. His first job was to teach English and linguistics in Japan; subsequently he worked on language technology projects in the UK, and more widely in the EU, researching market prospects as well as underlying science.

For a couple of years in the late 1980s he was responsible for the British team within EUROTRA, the EU's machine translation project. Another focus of his was corpus linguistics, including the set-up in 1990 of the British National Corpus, the first 100-million-word text database. He has chaired FEL since its inception in 1995, a membership organization that exists to support, enable and assist the documentation, protection and promotion of small language communities.

Transcript of the Chat

Anu Garg
Welcome to the thirtieth Wordsmith Chat!

Today we are delighted to have as our guest Nicholas Ostler, chairman of Foundation for Endangered Languages. He is the author of "Empires of the Word, a language history of the world" and "Ad Infinitum, a Biography of Latin". He is joining us from Bath, England. Welcome, Nicholas Ostler!

Anu Garg
The topic of this chat is: The life (and death) of languages.

Karim Durzi
I enjoyed reading Empires. Great book.

Betty Maryland
How many languages have already been lost?

Nicholas Ostler
Thank you all for your welcomes.

Betty Maryland
Mr. Ostler, how many and which languages have already been lost?

Nicholas Ostler
That is a pretty horrendous question to start with, but I'll make a try. We have to reckon that something like human language has been with us for at least 100 thousand years, but it has only left permanent traces for the last 7,000, so there is no way we could know how many, or which, languages have been lost in total.

Sean D
100,000 years, very interesting!

Betty Maryland
Mr. Ostler: What is the value of saving a dying language? (I hope this question is not so horrendous).

Nicholas Ostler
Nevertheless, we can identify a succession of kinds of human culture: small hunter-gatherer communities where each tends to have their own language, the spread of agriculture and herding, with larger groups and hence fewer languages, and finally (after the advent of writing) the spread of large empires, usually with imposed bilingualism, at least in the short term, but sometimes loss of (conquered or occasionally conquering) languages.

Karim Durzi
What is the origin of the definite article common to Arabic and Latin-rooted languages, such as el, il, le, la etc. I speculate that they may have originated from the old Canaanite deity El, the God (which was later transformed to Allah, The God). My reasoning is that since a definite article imbues a quality of uniqueness (The Mountain, The Planet), it contains the essence of the noun in question. Since the God El of the ancient Palestinians represented the essence of existence, the term el was incorporated in nouns to add a quality of uniqueness and singularity. In Arabic, the articles el and al are ancient, yet in Latin-based languages, this article emerged in Medieval times, but still sounds suspiciously close to the original Arabic. What do you think?

Nicholas Ostler
I think the similarity of Arabic al to Spanish el etc. is a coincidence. It is quite easy to derive the Romance words from Latin demonstrative. The Semitic articles differ from language to language (e.g. Hebrew ha-) and the word for God actual contains an h after the el - e.g. Arabic ilah, Hebrew elohim.

Nicholas Ostler
Prima facie, it seems rather unlikely to me that a god's name would be generalized in this profuse way, or that a word which connotes definiteness would be reinterpreted to by The One (deity). But it's not impossible, I suppose - at least the latter possibility. Cf YHWH which is supposed to be some pun on a verb for existence.

Karim Durzi
It's pure speculation on my part; but remember the ancient deity in the Old Testament is refered to as El (no H). Furthermore, it antedated the Romance by centuries. It may have been a linguistic migration, following the Crusaders visit to the Holy Land. Your remark re YHWH (He Who He Is) adds some fuel. No?

Sean D
I have what might seem to be a silly question - and perhaps could be associated with the topic of the life (and death) of languages.

Sean D
By the way, I have been receiving "a word a day" for years now and I love it! I am no language expert, simply a musician with an interest in words, though I have still really enjoyed the very interesting words that show up in the word a day email.

Karim Durzi
Nicholas, the name of God to the ancient people (other than the Hebrews) was rather commonly used. In all names ending with -allah (Abdallah etc) and even in Jewish names (Mechael, Daniel) the name of the deity is profusely used.

Sean D
My first name is Gabriel (Sean is my middle name)... would Gabriel fit somewhere in that category?

Karim Durzi
The last two letters of Gabriel stand for the ancient Canaanite God El.

Nicholas Ostler
Karim, saying that people (the highest entities in creation, as might be thought) are slaves of god is hardly a profuse use. But an article would have to apply the holy name to just anything, however foul it might be thought.

Sean D
My question that may or may not be "silly", that I mentioned a few minutes ago, is related to creating a language. I'm far from the language creation abilities of someone like JRR Tolkien, though as a side-project, more of an "occasional part-time hobby", I enjoy writing fiction of various genres, mostly fantasy and sci-fi. In the past I have made attempts, albeit poor, at creating at least some basics to potential languages. Because a language can quickly become more than a lifetime's work, I figured I'd stick with some absolute basics and essentials, though have not really had a good idea on where to start. Any recommendations or suggestions?

Nicholas Ostler
In formulating your own language? I used to do it a lot when I was a lad. It just meant setting up an arbitrary grammar and vocabulary, and applying its rules.

Sean D
Grammar, vocabulary, rules. Okay, that's a start. :)

Nicholas Ostler
Tolkien made this exercise interesting (for himself, and subsequently many others) by conceiving not just a language but at least two, related to one another by recognized processes of language change) and then putting them into an imagined historical context.

Sean D
Interesting that there's mention of "el" or "allah" earlier, in some of my earlier language creation attempts I have incorporated variances of those into names and actually referred to them in the same context.

Sean D
Do you mean something like Tolkien's use of the language of, say, an "elf" and then of a "dwarf"?

Nicholas Ostler
I was only referring to Quenya and Sindarin, both nominally elvish languages. The other languages (e.g. of Dwarves) are said to exist, but are not actually used beyond the odd word.

Sean D
How might one, on creating 2+ languages, go about relating one to another? Recognized processes of language change - I'm not sure if I know what that means.

Nicholas Ostler
This is what is sometimes called 'sound law', i.e. the tendency (or requirement) for all examples of a given sound in a language to change together. Superimposed on that is the requirement of the language to go on functioning as a semantic system, so some changes may be introduced in order to give new clarity to the system.

Sean D
I'll have to look more into Quenya and Sindarin. (I'm just a musician, although almost a Dr. in the field, so my apologies if I get anything wrong on language topics). But I'll look into those 2 languages some more, hopefully I can get creative concepts from them.

Sean D
Wow! Maybe I should buy some books on the process. ;)

Nicholas Ostler
As for sound law, consider how all the examples of long e or short i in Latin correspond to oi [pronounced wa) in modern French.

Nicholas Ostler
Legem, me, se , fidem, debet, pira - loi, moi, soi, foi, doit, poire

Sean D
I have studied Japanese in high school, Chinese and Sign Language in undergrad, a little bit of German in grad school. I only covered introductory levels of each, though recently have picked up Chinese again with hopes of actually mastering the language. While my interests in my fiction writing hobby, with language process, is perhaps more fitting of what I suppose are "Western languages" (??), my actual interest in real-life languages gravitates towards what I suppose would be the "Eastern languages".

Nicholas Ostler
In Ad Infinitum, I give some examples of how the sound laws mucked up the noun and verb systems, and so they had to be reorganized in modern Romance languages, from Portuguese to Rumanian.

Sean D
Have the modern languages had to compensate for shifts in those systems beyond reorganizing?

Nicholas Ostler
Well, that's a good range, Sean, and less likely to give you false generalization than if you had studied (as many do) Latin, French, Spanish and Italian. But it's good to delve deeper, if you have the chance. The problem with Chinese, considered historically, is that it is so ground down it is difficult to see how purely linguistic structures might work, and change over time. This was a problem for Chinese indigenous linguistics.

Nicholas Ostler
Well, 'reorganizing' is a pretty general term. The Romance languages, for example, created a whole new tense, the 'conditional' or 'future in the past' which had had no analogue at all in Latin.

Sean D
The 1st tone "ta" could refer to he/him or she/her, and while it is spoken the same, the written form is slightly different. Both written forms share the character "ye" (3rd tone), which alone means "also", and each character is preceded by a radical form of "ren" (2nd tone) (person), for he/him, and "nu" (umlaut u, 3rd tone) (woman), for she/her. Do any Western, or non-Asian, languages share similar concepts?

Karim Durzi
I am curious about names of persons - and places. Anu, would you be kind enough to tell us where your name comes from, and what it means? I've always wondered about that.

Sean D
Are there any "Western" languages that share similar concepts to the 1st tone "ta" Chinese example?

Nicholas Ostler
1st tone ta in Chinese: I know only rudimentary Chinese, but from your account it means little other than '3rd person singular pronoun'. And there are plenty of them about the world's languages.

Jean - Portland OR
English is quickly becoming a world language. Of course, it will change over time, but do you believe it has already managed to achieve immortal status?

Nicholas Ostler
Jean: to that, the answer is very much No - and I am trying to write a book to tell you all why.

Betty: the value of saving a dying language is the same as the value of saving a source of happy memories. (Such sources include our own relatives, as well as souvenirs from our past.) That is one thing...

Nicholas Ostler
But of course, when a language is lost, it tends to co-occur with the loss of a traditional way of life, and of traditional knowledge and stories and songs. That is some devastation.

Betty Maryland
Mr. Ostler, you mean loss of a culture?

Nicholas Ostler
I do mean loss of a culture. Things that survive in translation are always a mere filtering of what would otherwise come through the language tradition.

M@
Like when the English made the Native Americans learn the English Language?

Sean D
Is it safe to assume that a language of India might one day be more of a "world language" than English?

Betty Maryland
Yes, I just read an article about the last person in Alaska speaking a native tongue; very sad.

Jean - Portland OR
Also, the way we view the world is directly influenced by the language we speak.

Sean D
Or that a language accompanying the largest demographic on Earth.

Betty Maryland
Jean, how so?

Jean - Portland OR
Particular expressions encapsulate a thought process; often not capable of being translated.

M@
Why does a language like Latin die, and Greek remained?

Nicholas Ostler
M@: this is an interesting question, but largely a matter of naming, and also accidents of survival. Modern Greek is no more like the Ancient Greek koine which was used throughout the Mediterranean than Italian or Spanish are like Latin. But since it is the only state-based descendant from the koine, it is still called Greek. There is no single modern language derived from Latin, but there are many. Ancient Greek, on the other hand, is as much alive or dead as Latin is (viz a well-known written language which is no longer used creatively).

Betty Maryland
Jean, would u please give an example or 2?

Jean - Portland OR
Gemuetlichkeit

M@
Mr Ostler, Why do they "die"?

Jean - Portland OR
Schadenfreude.

Sean D
"cosiness"?

Jean - Portland OR
Even 'angst'; which I think is misused by Americans.

M@
Jean, What do those words mean?

Betty Maryland
Jean, oic, the word is translatable, but only in several words.

Sean D
"pleasure from misfortune"?

Nicholas Ostler
It just means that they are not accepted into use by a rising generation. That can arise for various reasons - prohibition, absence of learning opportunities, children's sense that the future lies elsewhere...

Jean - Portland OR
Yes, anything can be translated; but often the real meaning is lost in the translation. We make do.

M@
Mr Ostler, Do they evolve, like, will the English language probably be much different 100 years from now?

Nicholas Ostler
In a way, the examples that Jean is giving are cases of venial loss, since they are mostly borrowed from German into English.

Betty Maryland
Jean, but don't we have angst, etc., just the same as German speakers, even though we have to translate with several words? and, if so, how would using that word change our thought processes?

Nicholas Ostler
English still gets the meaning, but perhaps in a weaker form, since they are not senses to be connected with the ordinary words they are made up of.

Betty Maryland
Jean, how does using several words instead of the one, e.g. "angst," change our thought processes?

Jean - Portland OR
I'm thinking.

Betty Maryland
Jean, lol :)

Sean D
Schaden = damage, harm; freude = joy... how could the original meaning in that change, or better, how could even the "original meaning" (or definition) only have one meaning? it's hard to believe such words are restricted to "one original meaning".

Jean - Portland OR
What is thought? How do we think? I believe we all use language in the process. The Chinese, for example, seem to think more visually.

Nicholas Ostler
English has changed at different speeds at different periods in its history. The 200 years from 1000 to 1200 were amazingly innovative, whereas - by and large- not a lot has happened since 1600.

Sean D
How would Dutch word "gezelligheid" compare to German word "gemutlichkeit"?

Jean - Portland OR
We're getting a little off topic. The point I'm trying to make is that when a language dies, so does a way of looking at the world.

Jean - Portland OR
Do you mean Geselligkeit?

Sean D
Jean - what do you mean by Chinese thinking more visually?

Jean - Portland OR
They are two different things.

Jean - Portland OR
Mr. Ostler, help!

Betty Maryland
Jean, I think we agree: i.e., when a language dies, that culture does also. And would u define culture as a way of looking at the world?

Sean D
Dutch "gezelligheid", as associated with a social situation; German "gemutlichkeit", as associated with one individual, alone.

Nicholas Ostler
English is a language with very little constraint on borrowings from foreign languages, and with its imperial career and far-flung business interests it has found plenty of languages to borrow from. Not all languages are like that. For example, Chinese is almost impervious to loans - and so was Greek, in its ancient metropolitan period.

Sean D
The Chinese "thinking" is perhaps equally audible as visual, with the emphasis on tones, and with the emphasis on character specifics.

Betty Maryland
Mr. Ostler, Nathan Sharansky said there is no such thing as a person without a culture. Do you think there is no such thing as a group of people without a language?

Jean - Portland OR
Do you think that the pictoform writing system of Chinese renders it less flexible to borrowing?

Nicholas Ostler
Latin was like English - at least as long as it was used for real administration in the Middle Ages. Classicism was opposed to all that: "if it was good enough for Cicero, it's good enough for me."

Sean D
(Chinese does not use strictly pictograms.)

Jackson Cooper - Boston
But Chinese isn't really pictoform, and it has borrowed some words phonetically, like coffee

Jean - Portland OR
So, how do they write 'coffee'.

Sean D
Modern day Chinese appears to have some borrowed terms. "Hi", English, is actually given a character in Chinese, spoken the same and meaning the same.

Jackson Cooper - Boston
ka-fe

Nicholas Ostler
Well, Betty, I suppose you want to exclude a ward of neonates. But certainly new languages tend to get invented, if fr one reason or another a group is growing up without a common language.

Sean D
Chinese also has "ideograms", as some have coined it, among other concepts to character structure.

M@
Do they have a pictogram for coffee?

Sean D
It would perhaps be more "politically correct" to refer to the writing as "characters".

Sean D
(rather than pictograms)

Jackson Cooper - Boston
yes - and it incorporates symbols to do with water and drinking, but also to do with the sounds "ka" and "fe". Phonologically, Chinese is just as capable at borrowing, so why hasn't it?

Nicholas Ostler
This is the creole case, where languages seem to evolve out of bits and pieces of pre-existing languages. But those languages pre-exist: if there is no language available to a child, it will grown up unable to speak - e.g. Genie in California, Kaspar Hauser in Germany, the Wild Boy of Aveyron.

Nicholas Ostler
Yes, Jackson - that is the key question.

Betty Maryland
Mr. Ostler, what is anyone doing to preserve languages which are dying today?

Jackson Cooper - Boston
do you have any (possible) answers?

Sean D
I'm glad Chinese came up with someone else. Nicholas - do you know of any Western languages that use the concept of Chinese "ta" (1st tone) in referring to male/female, where it is spoken the same but written different?

Nicholas Ostler
Ah, Sean, now I understand you. Are there other written languages which make distinctions that the spoken language glosses over? Is that the nub of it?

Sean D
Actually, Chinese (modern version) does borrow more from other languages. The "hi" example is only one small example but there are others... I'm still studying the language, though my instructor has told me that Chinese is borrowing more from other languages.

Sean D
Yes, Nicholas, thank you - that is my question. :)

Jackson Cooper - Boston
There are plenty of homonyms in English (pear, pair). or are those too unrelated?

Nicholas Ostler
Well, Jackson, there is the traditional view that Chinese culture is very self-satisfied, but they've had considerable trauma to shatter that in the 19-20th centuries, and the resistance to borrowing remains. It will be interesting to see if, as China becomes more focused on international activities, its propensity to borrow changes.

Nicholas Ostler
Right, Sean, well what about English: your/you're, their/they're ? Written languages are often out of synch with the spoken form.

Sean D
It is safe to say that 21st Century Chinese is - while perhaps still harboring a bit of resistance to borrowing - is already gradually introducing more loan words.

Sean D
Okay, that's a great comparison, thank you. (Your/you're, etc.)

Sean D
The reverse seems to be true, and has been for some time, with English borrowing from other languages - and likewise, other languages borrowing from other languages.

Jackson Cooper - Boston
As far as Greek their "barbarian" view of the outside world seems to show the same self-satisfaction. but they borrowed an entire writing system from the Phoenicians.

Jackson Cooper - Boston
Less pride in writing than in speaking maybe?

Nicholas Ostler
So to Nathan Shcharansky I should say: what about Genie in California, the Wild Boy of Aveyron? Some people are denied their culture. That is what is wrong - ultimately - with language loss.

Betty Maryland
Jean, going back to language, a way of speaking, influencing the speaker's way of thinking: I had always thought it was the reverse: the way we think influences the way we speak.

Jean - Portland OR
Advances in technology seem to mandate that the concept encapsulated by the word simply be adopted or borrowed.

Betty Maryland
Mr. Ostler, would you say the Wild Boy was a person like me and u?

Nicholas Ostler
Yes, the Greeks borrowed a writing system from their Phoenician competitors - and then luckily misunderstood the guttural consonants and so came up with vowel signs!

Jackson Cooper - Boston
Nicholas, I see that you studied linguistics at MIT. Do you advocate Universal Grammar? How does that affect the language as worldview/culture idea?

Jean - Portland OR
There's a reciprocal relationship between thought and speech.

Betty Maryland
Mr. Ostler, I think we're just talking about definitions: i.e., where are the boundaries of personhood?

Nicholas Ostler
Well, Betty, none of us thinks (or speaks) alone. We acquire these skills socially, so I think that thought and language are at every stage inter-penetrating. (Not that I discount visual thought. But even that may develop within a society.)

Karim Durzi
Borrowing is basically a function of the flexibility of the language (such as extensive borrowing from Greek and Latin in English for form compound words); and English is very hospitable. But as an Arabic speaker, I can say that that language is resistant to borrowing and recently this has changed. Yet, the depth of language allows it to come up with words that encapsulate the meaning intended. For example, "television" (although commonly used in spoken language) has a classical equivalent: al-mirnaa' derived from the verb yarnu, which mean to watch and listen to. Same with words like bus, telephone etc. This perhaps reflects the depth of the language, but unfortunately when you talk to people, they use the more common English terms. What does that mean?

M@
Do you think it is worthwhile to study a "dead" Language? What are the benefits?

Nicholas Ostler
And any of us could have grown up as a wild child, deprived of the right stimulus environment. That is the ace in the MIT Universal Grammar pack: it is clear that the human mind needs language input to develop its language faculty, although we seem intrinsically to generalize beyond the actual bits of language that we hear. But other than that, I don't think MIT universalism has much to contribute to the issue of the value of endangered languages.

Betty Maryland
Karim, that many people want to identify with the dominant (or "cool") culture & language?

Jackson Cooper - Boston
That television is dominated by American culture and thus the English word is more appropriate.

Karim Durzi
No, I think it reflects the sad decline of literate culture for one thing.

Jean - Portland OR
Again, certain concepts are simply encapsulated. Television.

Nicholas Ostler
I certainly think it's worthwhile studying a dead language - just as it is fascinating to hear about history. This is more a personal taste though - different from the imperative to try to spare endangered languages.

Karim Durzi
"Telefizion" as the French would pronounce it!

Sean D
These are all words that English has "borrowed" from German, right? -- bratwurst, hamburger, pretzel, spritzer; blitz, foosball; doppelganger, gesundheit, kaput, kindergarten, neanderthal, poltergeist, uber, wanderlust, zeitgeist, zeppelin; gestalt; quartz; kaiser; flugelhorn, glockenspiel, waltz; angst, wunderkind; kobold; "stille nacht", "o tannenbaum"; etc.

Nicholas Ostler
Languages are exceedingly powerful ways of conveying a set of associations. That can be a disadvantage of coining new senses for old vocabulary. With a borrowed word, you have a clean slate.

Jean - Portland OR
It can be fun to try to translate, and be creative in your translation. It can also be fun to resurrect a dead language; and you may learn a lot about that culture and 'your' culture in the process.

Sean D
The German word "schaudenfreude" can be associated with English "gloating"? And the German word "schadenfreude" can be associated with English "epicaricacy"? (Maybe?)

Jean - Portland OR
You have too many things there, Sean. Zeitgeist is a good example of something difficult to translate. Ueber, kaput, don't forget your umlauts.

Jean - Portland OR
epicaricacy

Sean D
By "dead" language, it might help to consider just how "dead" it is... it might be beyond resurrection. Or so it would seem.

Nicholas Ostler
Absolutely, jean: in fact one of my greatest pleasures as a student was composing prose and verse (mostly actually 'translating') in Greek and Latin. But I could never justify it to myself as important work - more's the pity!

Jean - Portland OR
Yikes. I better google that word.

Sean D
Too many "things"?

M@
I was thinking about Latin or (Ancient) Greek.

Karim Durzi
Now google is a new word for you. What wrong with search I wonder? Or look it up?

Jean - Portland OR
Nobody looks anything up any more. We all google. :-)

Nicholas Ostler
The benefits of studying Latin or Greek are (a) familiarity with an alien pattern of thought and expression (b) the interest that this alien system was used by our ancestors.

Betty Maryland
Karim, "google" is a more specific word than "search," and, imho, better.

Sean D
Nicholas - Do you think that it is possible that languages borrowing from languages has been a direct cause of the death of languages? Likewise, do you think borrowing has been at least an indirect cause of the birth of languages?

Jean - Portland OR
Yes. Alien pattern of thought and expression. Back to square one.

Jackson Cooper - Boston
And also higher standardized test scores (if you're still in grade school)

Sean D
Google is from the "googol" part of googolplex, right?

Nicholas Ostler
Ah yes - another value of learning Latin and Greek is a lifelong facility in manipulating large dictionaries.

M@
Do you think that Latin died because it split into English, French, and Spanish, etc.?

Karim Durzi
Furthermore, familiarity with Latin and Greek saves you from going to the dictionary all the time.

Betty Maryland
Mr. Ostler, I must leave for an appointment; thank you very much.

Jackson Cooper - Boston
It does seem like Latin died from splitting first into dialects of Vulgar Latin, then into new Romance languages altogether.

Nicholas Ostler
No, Sean, I don't think borrowing is a cause of the death of languages, any more than learning a new language endangers the ones you already know - unless you stop speaking it. Borrowings, like multilingualism, are in principle enriching. It's just difficult sometimes to handle all those riches in daily life.

Sean D
Does Latin and/or Greek apply to saving you from going to the dictionary with German words?

M@
Does German have Latin roots?

Nicholas Ostler
Well, Jackson, Latin went on being transmitted through the school system triumphantly for a millennium after the origin of those Romance languages - and for at least 500 years in direct competition with them as literate media.

Karim Durzi
What I meant was that much of the words we use have Greek origin (medicine) and Latin (law).

Nicholas Ostler
This situation still exists for Arabic, and did for Chinese until the beginning of the 20th century.

Sean D
Ah, okay :) so borrowing words, loan words, etc. are like adding a little extra spice to the meal? ;) heheh ...makes it a little more interesting (from the perspective of one who accepts multiple languages incorporated into daily communication)

Sean D
What are some German words used in medicine and law?

Nicholas Ostler
I think so, Sean. But there's only so much time in the day, and one can only meet so many speakers of different languages. Something's gotta give.

Jackson Cooper - Boston
But the people weren't speaking Latin any more. and most were illiterate. so the language had effectively died

Jackson Cooper - Boston
Except for the scribes and elite

M@
In response to Sean: Gesundheit

Anu Garg
How about one more question before we wrap this chat up.

Nicholas Ostler
Well, Jackson, is anybody speaking standard Arabic today?

Jackson Cooper - Boston
True.

Sean D
Oh I have to ask this: Nicholas - What got you into your field? (What interested you in it?) (Can you tell us a little bit about your book(s)?)

Nicholas Ostler
We mustn't assume that the sociolinguistic regime which we live as -largely- monolingual speakers of a language which is close(ish!) to the language we write is the global norm. Learning foreign languages is an interesting way of broadening one's mind and understanding on this.

Karim Durzi
Standard Arabic is used in the print media and radio broadcasts. Educated people tend to come close in their formal conversations. But otherwise colloquialism abounds

Jackson Cooper - Boston
thanks very much, Nicholas, and all

Nicholas Ostler
I loved languages at school - we got to learn French, Latin and Greek or German with no particular wish for it before the age of 13. In a way, the rest of my life has been like a quest to get back to that language Eden - even as I watch language teaching in my own country go to hell in a handcart.

Karim Durzi
Yes, thanks a lot; we never got to know the origin and meaning of Anu Garg.

Jean - Portland OR
I look forward to reading your next book, Mr. Ostler.

Anu Garg
Thank you, Nicholas Ostler, for taking part in this chat. For more, please see his Web site and his books Empires of the Word, a language history of the world and Ad Infinitum, a Biography of Latin.

Nicholas Ostler
Thank you very much all of you - and especially Jean: may I quote you to my agent?

Anu Garg
And thanks to all the participants.

M@
Thanks!

Jean - Portland OR
Certainly.

Anu Garg
Karim: See So what does Anu mean?

Sean D
Thank you!

Karim Durzi
Thanks.

Anu Garg
Please send your feedback on Wordsmith Chat to (words at wordsmith.org) on how you enjoyed the chat and how we can make it better. Thank you.

Nicholas Ostler's picture

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