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Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin

Overview

“An absorbing, scholarly account of the history of the Latin language, from its origins in antiquity to its afterlife in our own time...Ad Infinitum treats its readers with the dignity of Roman citizens.”—The Wall Street Journal

The Latin language has been the one constant in the cultural history of the West for more than two millennia. It has defined the way in which we express our thoughts, our faith, and our knowledge of how the world functions, its use echoing on in the law ...

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Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin

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Overview

“An absorbing, scholarly account of the history of the Latin language, from its origins in antiquity to its afterlife in our own time...Ad Infinitum treats its readers with the dignity of Roman citizens.”—The Wall Street Journal

The Latin language has been the one constant in the cultural history of the West for more than two millennia. It has defined the way in which we express our thoughts, our faith, and our knowledge of how the world functions, its use echoing on in the law codes of half the world, in the terminologies of modern science, and, until forty years ago, in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. In his erudite and entertaining “biography,” Nicholas Ostler shows how and why Latin survived and thrived even as its creators and other languages failed. Originally the dialect of Rome and its surrounds, Latin supplanted its neighbors to become, by conquest and settlement, the language of all Italy, and then of Western Europe and North Africa. After the empire collapsed, spoken Latin re-emerged as a host of new languages, from Portuguese and Spanish in the west to Romanian in the east, while a knowledge of Latin lived on as the common code of European thought, and inspired the founders of Europe’s New World in the Americas. E pluribus unum. Illuminating the extravaganza of its past, Nicholas Ostler makes clear that, in a thousand echoes, Latin lives on, ad infinitum.

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Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
…[a] lucid, erudite and elegant history of the language [Ostler] calls "the soul of Europe's civilization."
—The New York Times
Library Journal

In this delightfully rich book, Ostler, an Oxford-educated classicist with a Ph.D. in linguistics from MIT, thoroughly tackles the deep and complex history of the Latin language. He delves into the matrix of antique languages (Greek, Etruscan, Oscan) to uncover the context and relationships that a nascent and burgeoning Latin had with the multiplicity of Mediterranean languages existing at that time. In four parts, Ostler covers the origins and development of Latin in the Roman world, Latin's "taking over the church," its medieval continuation and fracturing into vernaculars, and a nuanced rebirth in the Renaissance and its legacy in the contemporary world. Incredibly well documented, with examples from antiquity to the modern era (such as Giuseppe Peano's "Latino sine flexione"-uninflected Latin as a world language), this may overexpose non-Latinists to great quantities of Latin prose and linguistic explanations, but for interested students, teachers, and scholars, it is a fabulous text. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Anthony J. Elia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802716798
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 11/11/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 631,783
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Ostler is the author of Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. He is chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages (www.ogmios.org), a charity that supports the efforts of small communities worldwide to know and use their languages more. A scholar with a working knowledge of eighteen languages, Ostler holds an M.A. from Oxford University in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics, and a Ph.D in linguistics from MIT, where he studied under Noam Chomsky. He lives in England, in Roman Bath, on the hill where Ambrosius Aurelianus defeated the Saxons for a generation.

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Table of Contents


Praefatio     xi
A Latin World
Ad infinitum-An Empire Lived in Latin     3
Fons et origo-Latin's Kin     21
Sub rosa-Latin's Etruscan Stepmother     30
Cui bono?-Rome's Winning Ways     46
Excelsior-Looking Up to Greek     58
Felix coniunctio-A Partnership of Paragons     83
Latin Recruits
Urbi et orbi-Taking Over the Church     107
Vox populi vox dei-Latin as the Bond of Unity     116
Dies irae-Staying On     128
Ultra vires-Beyond the Limits of Empire     150
Worlds Built on Latin
Lapsus linguae-Incurable Romantics: Fractured Latin     159
Amor vincit omnia-Latin Lovers     177
Litterae humaniores-The Fruits of a Latin Education     190
Ex oriente lux-Sources of Higher Learning     207
Latin in a Vernacular World
Alter ego-Humanism and the Return of the Classics     233
Deus ex machina-Printing and the Profusion of Grammars     250
Novus orbis-Latin America     260
Decus et tutamen-Last Redoubts     278
Eheu fugaces-Latin's Decline     292
Sub specie aeternitatis-Latin Today     302
Notes on the Latin Tags in Chapter Headings     321
Etruscan Borrowings in Latin     323
Effects of Sound Changes on Latin Nouns and Verbs     327
Notes     331
Bibliography     359
Index     369
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