Every two weeks a language dies. Of the estimated 5,000 languages spoken worldwide, from Cherokee to Cornish, only half are likely to survive to the end of this century.
What does this mean for the human race? Will we eventually become a one-language planet? And does it even matter?
Andrew Dalby's powerful study shows why language loss affects us all. He explores how languages become extinct: through political power, in the case of Latin engulfing the Ancient Mediterranean; through brute force, such as that used against the Native Americans and Australians; and through economics - as the phenomenal rise of English as the language of business and mass communications shows.
This linguistic globalisation means a loss not just of cultural identity and diversity, but also of the unique world-view and acquired local knowledge enshrined in the way we speak. The consequences, Dalby argues, will be devastating - not just for language, but for the future of humankind itself.