English is the world's lingua franca—the most widely spoken language in human history. And yet, as historian and linguist Nicholas Ostler persuasively argues, English will not only be displaced as the world's language in the not-distant future, it will be the last lingua franca.
Greek, Latin, Arabic have all held the position of lingua franca, and Ostler explores each through the lens of civilizations spanning the globe and history, from China and India to Russia and Europe, isolating three trends that suggest the ultimate decline of English and other lingua francas. The rising wealth of Brazil, Russia, India, and China will challenge the dominance of native-English-speaking nations, thereby shrinking the international preference for English. Simultaneously, new technologies will allow instant translation among major languages, enhancing the status of mother tongues and lessening the necessity for any future lingua franca.
Ostler predicts a soft landing for English: It will still be widely spoken, if no longer worldwide, sustained by America's continued power on the world stage. But its decline will be both symbolic and significant, evidence of grand shifts in the cultural effects of empire.
"A bracing history of lingua francas and their dynamic variation, with a focus on the perfect wave that International English is riding—toward a wipeout . . . His aim is not pedantic but to pique general readers' code-cracking interest."—Kirkus Reviews