477: Ad Infinitum by Nicholas Ostler

by Gerard


477: Ostler, Nicholas. Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin. New York: Walker & Company, 2008. 319 pp. ISBN 0-8027-1679-2.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 470: Italic and Latin languages
  • 477: Old, Postclassical, and Vulgar Latin

Nicholas Ostler’s Ad Infinitum is a monumental effort to catalog the travels and metamorphosis of the Latin language throughout European history. Latin changed in varying degrees based on the peoples it met on its journey, but the modern family of European languages all trace their roots back to a single language from a once-small area in Central Italy known as Latium. While there are times when he gets bogged down in the minutiae of word transformations and grammatical construction, his thesis is that the language survived through a combination of early Roman acculturation and the swift expansion of the Catholic Church. There is an interesting interplay that always seems to happen between a language and the lives of the language’s speakers. Language, culture, and history all seem to effect each other and make for a “three body problem” when discussing any of these facets. Latin is no different. This is, however, a very intriguing read for language lovers.