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Nicholas Ostler's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Nicholas Ostler recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Nicholas Ostler's favorite book recommendations of all time.

Lost in an art—the art of translation. Thus, in an elegant anagram (translation = lost in an art), Pulitzer Prize-winning author and pioneering cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter hints at what led him to pen a deep personal homage to the witty sixteenth-century French poet Clément Marot.”

Le ton beau de Marot” literally means ”The sweet tone of Marot”, but to a French ear it suggests ”Le tombeau de Marot”—that is, ”The tomb of Marot”. That double entendre foreshadows the linguistic exuberance of this book, which was sparked a decade ago when Hofstadter, under the spell...
Recommended by Nicholas Ostler, and 1 others.

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Linguistic Diversity

There are some 6,500 different languages in the world. This book investigates why diversity arose, how it relates to the origins and evolution of language and culture, and whether the uneven distribution of human languages may be linked with patterns of human geography and history. Daniel Nettle draws on work in anthropology, linguistics, geography, archeology, and evolutionary science to explain linguistic diversity.
Recommended by Nicholas Ostler, and 1 others.

Nicholas OstlerDavid Nettle is an anthropologist of language. Although the publishers say this book is a volume of “Oxford linguistics”, this is like no linguistics that I was ever taught when I was studying for my doctorate in the subject. (Source)

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The Stories of English

The English language is now accepted as the global lingua franca of the modern age, spoken or written in by over a quarter of the human race. But how did it evolve? How did a language spoken originally by a few thousand Anglo-Saxons become one used by more than 1,500 million? What developments can be seen as we move from Beowulf to Chaucer to Shakespeare to Dickens and the present day? A host of fascinating questions are answered in The Stories of English, a groundbreaking history of the language by David Crystal. less
Recommended by Nicholas Ostler, and 1 others.

Nicholas OstlerDavid Crystal is a friend of mine. Conveniently he has said in print that English may find itself in the service of mankind forever. When I challenged him he said: “I only said it may”, suggesting that he also thinks it may not. From my attempt to show that the world’s linguistic future may be very diverse, he’s a useful straw man to attack. But he’s an extremely estimable linguist and knows he... (Source)

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The next century will see more than half of the world's 6,000 languages become extinct, and most of these will disappear without being adequately recorded. Written by one of the leading figures in language documentation, this fascinating book explores what humanity stands to lose as a result.

This book explores the unique philosophy, knowledge, and cultural assumptions of languages, and their impact on our collective intellectual heritage questions why such linguistic diversity exists in the first place, and how can we can best respond to the challenge of recording and documenting...
Recommended by Nicholas Ostler, and 1 others.

Nicholas OstlerThis book is a history of world languages which focuses on the small languages that make up about 96% of all spoken languages but are spoken by only about 4% of the world’s population. It’s language history from the point of view of the “little guy”. Evans gives you an idea of how the world seems when you speak a very small language and how you interact with lots of other groups who also speak... (Source)

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