For most of the last three centuries the world's dominant power has used the English language and the resulting spread of the language has been all-pervasive.
In 400 years native English-speakers have spread from a small island on the periphery of Europe to become one of the world's three largest language groups in number, and the one most widely distributed across the world as a whole. More important, the English language has become the preferred international medium for business, science and to a very large extent, entertainment. Scholars such as David Graddol now claim that English is less a lingua franca and more a basic part of global education for business, like maths or computing.
So is the future of English set fair? This is unlikely, Nicholas Ostler suggests in this provocative and fascinating book. Drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of the origins of world languages, he argues that a clear lesson of history is that no language - however populous its speakers, confident its culture and advanced its technology - can remain indefinitely the world's lingua franca. Drawing on a great range of languages he analyses the political, commercial and social reasons why languages fall away as inexorably as they rise: English in the long term is even more exposed to creeping neglect and destructive reaction than many of the great linguistic reputations of the past, such as Akkadian and Aramaic, Sogdian and Latin, French and Portuguese. Can English look to its laurels?