Speak : A Short History of Languages

by Tore Janson

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How does a language come into being, and when does it disappear? What actually happened to Latin? When was English created? Will all people on Earth speak English or Chinese in 200 years from now? These are a few of the questions discussed in A Short History of Languages. It is about how historical conditions shape languages and how languages influence the course of history. The book starts with a discussion of the period of gatherers and hunters, when there was a huge number of languges.It moves on to Greek and Latin, to French and Italian, and naturally includes a full discussion of English. Many other languages are treated, such as Setswana in southern Africa and the Creole language of Nevis in the West Indies. These languages and cultures are presented in a lively way, with concrete examples and sometimes small samples from literary works, such as those of Sappho and Dante. However, no knowledge of other languages than English is presupposed. The author thus presents a cultural history of languages which should be stimulating reading for all those who take an interest in history and/or languages. At the same time, he seeks to find general trends in the rise and spread of languages, and in their relations to states and societies. Several trends are identified, and they are also used to make some predictions about the future. Thus, the book also contains some of the first discussions of a number of intriguing problems in the border area between linguistics and history.

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