The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way

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Mother Tongue 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
rbryanm More than 1 year ago
a must-read for any lover of language. a must-read for any lover of english. a must-read for any lover of...(linguistics, anthropology, sociology, history, etc etc ad infinitum ad nauseum) simply...a must-read.
5hrdrive on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this highly entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny - for the first half of the book. Then for some reason it just seemed to go flat. Maybe it was just me.
drbubbles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The two or three chapters that were actually about historical development of languages were tantalizingly good, but fell measurably short of what I was hoping for. Much of the rest of the book is a collection of trivia organized by themes. Some of it's interesting but overall those parts smacked too much of the Book of Useless Information, the existence in this universe of which is a waste of perfectly good matter-energy.
wirkman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An absolutely fascinating account of the origins and evolution of the English language. I was especially gratified to see that the author reminds us of a few wondrous-but-obscure words, such as one of my long-time favorites, "velleity."
lizzybeans11 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an incredibly nerdy book! For someone who has thought only a little about how language has developed, this is an easy read and quite humorous.I noticed some reviewers complained about inaccuracies, which I guess is a problem, but overall I think the book is just meant to be a fun look at language. I don't imagine that anyone is using this book in their scholarly research - unless they're using the bibliography only!
mjmorrison1971 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Words, we use them everyday but this books takes a look at why those ones, how they are changing, where they come from. For someone who just passed Yr 12 English this was a fascinating read that makes Language interesting.
kevinashley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bill Bryson recounts the history and development of the english language, with a bit of humour thrown in to ease the journey.If I had to write a one-sentence summary of this book, that would be it. Inevitably, it's bit more complicated than that. If you are familiar with Bryson's work, the style here will be very familiar. He takes a wide view of the subject, but illustrates it selectively and takes a personal rather than scholarly view of the topic whilst still managing to be rigorous - to an extent. And he leavens it all with an irreverent view. It's never laugh-out-loud, and I don't think it's intended to be, but there's a good sprinkling of wry smiles and the writing style makes for very easy reading.He devotes the first two chapters to the evolution of langauge in general before beginning to tackle the emergence of English from around 450AD in chapter 3. Throughout the book he wanders into the greater realm of comparative linguistics to illustrate the ways in which English is either very like other languages, or dissimilar from them. If you are a serious student of this topic, there may not be much to learn here and you'll find some of the generalisations positively annoying, but you'll probably still enjoy it. For others it is likely to be much more rewarding.Even so, I felt mildly annoyed that, while he appears to take a very broad view of English against the background of language in general, Bryson seems too keen to defend it as something particularly special or elevated. His generalisations about what other languages are or are not capable of aren't always right and parts of the book - but only parts - seem to take a rather narrow view of English from the point of the US and the UK, the environments most familiar to him. His frequent disparaging remarks about Welsh are an example of this, and other reviewers have done a better job than I of showing how he can be both annoying and plain wrong about this and similar matters.But the descriptions of what can otherwise be difficult concepts, such as his analysis of the ways in which words change over time, are very accessible and he crams a lot of fascinating detail in here about such things as the influence of Norman French, the ways in which words become acceptable, then disreputable, then acceptable again over time, and sometimes false perceptions by others over what are and aren't Americanisms; and those are just a few examples.Overall an entertaining and often informative read, but hardly comprehensive. If you enjoy the aspects of the book that deal with langauge in a more general sense, I highly recommend David Crystal's Cambridge Encylopaedia of Language, or for that matter almost anything else by Crystal.
tonidew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bryson started with serious books on grammar and his expertise is put to good use in this book on the English language. Look out for Made in America too.
ablueidol on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Love reading about the evolution of words as well as language. Seen it first hand with Gay. My family used it to mean happy/joyful. I used it to mean queer/homosexual. My son uses it to mean dumb or stupid!
fnielsen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although reasonably well-written readers have made an effort to list the many factual errors of this book, so let me also try a few. In the index "Danish" has 5 items and I will comment on the three first. For the first item Bryson defines Danish word 'hygge' as meaning 'instantly satisfying and cosy'. Although not outright wrong I wouldn't use the word 'instantly'. In the second item Bryson writes "...a small corner of northern Germany, in the spur of land connecting Schleswig-Holstein to Denmark..." There is no land connecting Schleswig-Hostein to Denmark since they are directly connected. Third item: Bryson writes: ' Viking raiders from Scandinavia and Denmark'. Denmark is usually (always?) incorporated into Scandinavia.
jensgram on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting as all books by Bryson, although not his most entertaining publication.
shiunji on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Truly, you will never see English in the same way again. If like me, you often ponder of how the improbable and silly sayings and words in English came in to existence, or why spellings have such great variation, you will discover many delights like these and more, within this tome. The best thing is that it is written in a way that suggests it is the Bryson's opinion, and though it tries to convince you that this indeed is the truth, it doesn't in any way imply that it is. If you are the sort that enjoys that special, rare but growing category of non-fiction that is informal yet well researched scholarship - you have to try this book. Once you hit the 2nd paragraph, "Consider this hearty announcement in a Yugoslavian hotel: 'The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid. Turn to her straightaway.'", you will be undoubtedly hooked. Pettily, I took 1/2 a point away because at times Bill shows off his vast knowledge at the expense of being too extensive with his examples.
Intemerata on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Certainly very entertaining, but not particularly reliable: I don't think I can take seriously any book on language that repeats the old cliché about Eskimos and their words for snow more or less uncritically. This book is a lot like Wikipedia - there's a lot of very interesting information in there, but it's difficult to tell what's accurate and what isn't.
brianclegg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Bryson's writing and his enthusiasm for English is wonderful, as is his non-fussy exploration of where our language came from. Occasionally gets a little repetitious because of the subject, but otherwise great.
Janzz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting read though I picked up a couple of errors when he was talking about Australian English (being Australian myself)
DSD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an entertaining and informative read as is typical of Bill Bryson. If this had been one of the textbooks at school my english classes would have been a lot more interesting!From the back cover - In this hymn to the mother tongue Bill Bryson examines how a language 'treated for centuries as the inadequate and second-rate tongue of peasants' has now become the undisputed global language (more people learn English in China than live in the USA). He explains how the words 'shampoo', 'sofa', 'slogan', 'OK', and 'rowdy' (and others drawn from over 50 languages) got into our dictionaries and how the major dictionaries were created. He explores the countless varieties of English - from American to Australian, from Creole to Cockney rhyming slang - and the perils of marketing brands with names like Pschitt and Super Piss. With entertaining sections on the the oddities of swearing and spelling, spoonerisms and Scrabble, and a consideration of what we mean by 'good English', 'Mother Tongue' is one of the most stimulating books yet written on this endlessly engrosing subject.
landofashes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thought-provoking and funny at the same time - a gem of a book, which should be required reading for anyone who wants to teach English.
doggie38 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another entertaining, informative book by Bill Bryson. Delves into the history of the English language in a way that is, entertaining, humourous and informative.
ColinFine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A hugely entertaining writer, but - as commonly when a journalist strays into a specialist area - often inaccurate or contentious.My copy has abundant annotations, occasionally saying 'true' or 'Good!', but mostly 'crap' or 'what about xxx?'.I much prefer to point people at Pinker's 'The Language Instinct' - granted that he presents Chomskyism as the only alternative, but he does show you how language works, rather than exhibiting a zoo of half-understood monsters.I would
FrogPrincessuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyable. Bill Bryson brings across dry (yet interesting) material in an entertaining and easy-to-read way.
BoundTogetherForGood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. I very much enjoy learning about language and what affects it and causes it to change. The differences between American and British English intrigue me and were discussed in this book, along with other things.
herschelian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book from the moment I first started reading it. Words have always had a fascination for me, where they come from, how we use them, how meanings change. I found this a very happy book, funny in places, always informative and a good read.