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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, not replaced by another.

Empire, commerce, and religion have been the primary raisons d'etre
for lingua francas--Greek, Latin, Arabic have all held the
position--and Ostler explores each through the lens of civilizations
spanning the globe and history, from China and India to Russia and
Europe. Three trends emerge that suggest the ultimate decline of English
and other lingua francas. Movements throughout the world towards
equality in society will downgrade the status of elites--and since
elites are the prime users of non-native English, the language will
gradually retreat to its native-speaking territories. 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, enhacing 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.
The Last Lingua Franca is both an insightful examination of the
trajectory of our own mother tongue and a fascinating lens through which
to view the sweep of history.

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