Monday, February 1, 2016

Research Book Post #5

February 1

Book: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler

Section: The rest of Chapter 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4 (Page 110 to 140)

The Glamour of the Nomad and the Triumph of Fertility

     This section concludes Chapter 3 by discussing the polarity between the Assyrians and Arabs, who both gave credit to their language through opposite ways. Assyrians attempted to show the worldly and brutal strength of their kings, while Arabs attempted to market their language, at least after the initial conquests, as the language of Allah and of the one true faith. One reason Arabic has spread is due to the appeal of the danger and mystique the Arabic language has gained in terms of prestige, which is simply due to its recent history in the Middle East. The book describes how the spread of Arabic on the back of Islam can be seen as the culmination of the three largest previous Semitic languages combining. It had the abstract theology of Jews and Hebrew, the embracing inclusiveness of the Aramaic Christians, and the military momentum of the Akkadian Assyrians.
      The next chapter discusses the similarities between Chinese and Egyptian, which both established strong power bases where their use of universal, however neither managed to spread their language from this base very far, despite controlling this base for thousands of years. Both had three long periods of unity, interspersed with times of civil unrest and alien occupation, with the Old-Middle and New Kingdoms of Egypt, and the Shang and Zhou, then first Empires of Qin and Han, followed by the Second Empires of Sui, Tang, and Song in China. Both formed around a single river, the Nile for Egypt and the Huang-He (Or Yellow River) for Chinese. Egyptian united early along the entire Nile river valley, and its extent remained the same for almost 4000 years. Over these years, vernacular language, not written language, changed, much like Anglo-Saxon to Middle English did. It was also found that large amounts of immigrants from the Berber(esque) speaking Libyans to the Kushites of the south did not affect the Egyptian language in any meaningful way, despite both
Demotic (or "popular") script
groups having periods of time in which they controlled the kingdom. The Egyptians did eventually conquer Palestine and Syria in thirteenth century, BC, however despite this all correspondence between the Pharoah and his foreign vassals was in Akkadian, not Egyptian. Egyptian finally met its match after being conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, along with the Ptolemeic successors, who managed to rid Egyptian from the high strata of society, using Greek for nobility and Aramaic for administration, leaving Egyptian for commoners. Christianity under the Romans eventually led to the suppression of hieroglyphics after 3500 years, and with it the end of mainstream ancient Egyptian, as the other forms of Egyptian writing, such as demotic, died out soon after. Despite this, Christianity also led to the survival of Egyptian, as Egyptian adopted the Greek alphabet and added 6 new letters from demotic to form the Coptic alphabet in an effort to adapt Egyptian to a more similar writing system.
     The Chinese language is seen as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, although often as a distinct branch due to its differences. Like Egyptian, its first writing was pictographic in nature, found on things such as tortoise shells, meant to visually represent the things they described, much
Evolution of Chinese
like early cuneiform ancestors. Chinese initially spread southwards from the Yellow River in an effort to find more fertile soil to increase the population, into the Yue peoples of the south. Chinese was first standardized under the First Emperor, who united all Chinese states for 11 after initially being the king of Qin, which is how China (Qin - a) gets its name. Chinese was standardized under the far western and conservative dialect of the Qin, along with being affected by the Turkish speakers in the Xiongnu tribes in what is modern day Mongolia.
     The chapter goes on to discuss the Farmer's Way which was previously mentioned, discussing how the languages of states such as China and Egypt spread not through conquest like the Assyrians or the initial Arabs, but rather through the slow and steady economic rise in status, as well as a the rise in population and influence. Both prove that the power of steady growth can even overcome the strength of military might, as can be seen by how Chinese persevered through the conquests of Turkic Nomads such as the Mongols, who had little effect on the language.

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