FEL Executive Committee member Nicholas Ostler

Today we introduce another member of the FEL Executive Committee.

Nicholas Ostler

I was born and bred in the south-east of England, in the county of Kent (which happens to be oldest county name in the country), and currently live in Hungerford, Berkshire, with my wife Jane Dunn Ostler and family. I studied Greek and Latin, and then philosophy and economics at Oxford University, followed by a PhD in theoretical linguistics (on noun cases, verb voices and classical Sanskrit) at MIT in 1979.

My main career activity has been as a consultant on language technologies (including machine translation), often reporting to the UK Department of Trade and Industry, and the European Union, and also occasionally undertaking fact-finding visits to Japan, India and the USA. I am currently on the Integration Panel (IP) of the Internet Corporation for Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN), advising on general use of Unicode characters in internet labels. I have also written four books on language history (Empires of the Word: a language history of the world, Ad Infinitum: a biography of Latin, The Last Lingua Franca: English until the return of Babel, Passwords to Paradise: how languages have reinvented world religions) and am currently working on Sanskrit Ocean, emphasizing the language’s connections between India and South-east Asia.

For family reasons, I have regularly visited Colombia, South America, since the 1990s and taken the opportunity to become an expert on its main pre-Hispanic language, Chibcha, spoken by the Muisca or Muysca. Besides the technical interest in recognizing long-lost grammatical rules, it has been fascinating too for me to watch the first stirrings of revival in the language community (Chibcha ceased to be spoken on a daily basis in the 18th century).

I have been Chairman of FEL since Chris Moseley, Andrew Woodfield (Bristol University), and I founded it as a charity in 1996, having been stimulated by Martin Krauss’s alarm call about language endangerment. I have taken part in almost all the FEL conferences held over the past 24 years, and edited many of our Proceedings volumes.