Book: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler
Section: Second half of Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 (Page 20 to 50)
Mesopotamia, and the Melting Pot of Unique LanguagesThe final half of Chapter 2 discusses how while it may be easy to consider military strength as well as religious and economic control as the only drivers of what makes a language successful, it has been proven that this is not the case. The book uses the Phoenicians, whose colonies stretched across the Mediterranean, in cities such as Carthage, however despite their economic success, their language never took hold, with languages such as Greek and Latin becoming the main language bases at that time. The book also discusses how languages such as Sogdian, used in large economic powerhouses, do not always succeed, but often rather the languages of those trading are used. It discusses how for a long time it was believed by even linguists that how a language functions has very little to do with how it succeeds, however this book is an effort to argue that a language can be more or less likely to spread based on how it works. The chapter then discusses how language seemed to have a flip from the time before to after 1492. This flip occurred when the Age of Exploration and colonization began. Before, land was the main course for language to spread, being dictated by literacy, religion, and land power. After 1492, language spread through sea routes, and colonies became much more useful as a way for a language to grow.
The next chapter discusses the first written languages, found in Mesopotamia. It discusses how many of these languages, such as Sumerian, left no real heir in terms of their language. It was in Mesopotamia that the first form of writing, on non-biodegradable stone tablets, was born. It was also a melting pot for dozens of small civilizations, each with very different languages with their own distinct origin, in states such as Sumer, the Hittites, and Elam. It also discusses how this was the first for many features of language, as the first place with written records, as well as the first area to emphasize libraries and museums. It was here that languages intermingled constantly for the first time, with each state being in constant trade and contact with its distinct neighbors, leading to a cosmopolitan environment. The chapter then discusses the three sister language Aramaic, Arabic, and Akkadian, all of the same family. It discusses how these languages were changed by their neighbors. It is believed that these languages were brought by a mass prehistoric migration out of Africa into Mesopotamia, as the languages have ties to others in Ethiopia with none in Mesopotamia. These languages then began to take on Sumerian logograms for their own language, despite the massive grammatical and audible differences. It then discussed how these migratory tribes began to become integral parts of the area, starting a cycle during which and Akkadian dynasty would rise and rule for a few centuries before being overthrown by either internal or external powers. These powers, however, would eventually abandon their language and adopt Akkadian, leading to Akkadian being the language of the area for over 1500 years. The book then goes on to talk about how the power position of the Akkadian and Sumerian languages were disrupted when several languages of the Indo-European family came down from the north into areas such as Persia and managed to secure themselves stiffly in those areas. Several tribes came down and would conquer Mesopotamia itself, with their success being attributed to their development of iron weaponry. Soon after, a third group, the nomadic Aramaeans, began to conquer and control Mesopotamia, spreading and settling its people across the area, despite the push back from Assyrian monarchs. Eventually, they would firmly become a major power player in the region. They would be strengthened by the rise of the Persians under Cyrus and Darius, who would use the language as the administrative backbone under which they would unite their large empire. This language would later be supplanted by Greek under Alexander the Great, who was then supplanted by Latin in the west and Parthian in the East. The remaining Aramaic speakers in the Fertile Crescent would be wiped out with the rise of Arabic and Islam.