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10 thoughts on “The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way

  1. says:

    I have to share my discontent with the world after keeping the words bottled up inside me for so long.I bought this book about two or three years ago, thinking it might be an entertaining read that might fill me in on some of the historical aspects of the English language I had already read A Short History Of Nearly Everything , and, knowing nothing about science, thought it was a rather entertaining read, even though I had some well, doubts about the book since I tend to favour systematic and precise literature over a tapestry of facts with entertainment and jokes woven in I also believe this to be one of the few books I have on my Goodreads shelves worthy of one star only.Why Before I start, let me tell you two things it has been a long time since I read the book, so my memory may not be as fresh any The second thing I would like to mention is that I have some kind of idea about linguistics, but am not a linguist where I am, however, a kind of expert, is in the study of foreign languages I am therefore intimately acquainted with the workings of many foreign languages though almost all of them are European I have also rather extensively studied the historical connections between languages and their classification in language families and so on.It is painfully obvious that Bryson speaks no foreign languages Fine Neither does Chomsky and he knows a thing or two about linguistics You don t have to be a multilingual prodigy to study linguistics, after all But I digress.Bryson makes the same mistake most monolingual speakers of any language make they think of their language as something unique Bryson tries to justify the popularity of the English language not with historical or political arguments because I am sure that the colonization of a significant part of the world by the British Empire and the subsequent cultural and political hegemony of the United States had nothing to do with it nooo, English is magic , but rather seems to believe that English has, through some kind of divine intervention, been miraculously endowed with characteristics that have made it beat the other languages as if linguistics were some kind of free market economy where the best product gets the biggest share of the market.Bryson then tries to argue the point with facts that are, while true for the most part, totally irrelevant Seriously, this is like reading a paper by a student who s been watching one too many linguistic quiz shows on ITV, if such a thing existed someone who likes to read trivia sections, and then pieces together the information obtained therefrom and tries to pass it off as knowledge to people unfortunate enough to be ignorant than him One fact that makes the English language so great, he says, is that it has so many words than all the other languages How many words a language has, Bill, is not only something that cannot accurately be ascertained, but also something that is completely irrelevant Why In brief, language create composita in a different way, for instance so where you might create a million different random words in German, in other languages, you have to link them together, meaning you will have less dictionary hits Not that that has any bearing on the quality of the language Some languages even HAVE to make words because they have agglutinative qualities such as Hungarian and Turkish meaning they lump prefixes, suffixes, and other elements together, creating big lump words Also, English is the dominant language of science as such, a lot of the scientific vocabulary is included in dictionaries Not that these words are usually English except for the newer sciences like computer science, of course they often come from Latin or Ancient Greek anyway There are also dictionaries being produced in English on account of it being popular , and the commercial production of English being viable As such, its lexicography can be assumed to be advanced Word count is as irrelevant as the number of brain cells or the size of the brain with regards to intelligence.This is my biggest beef with Bill s book At one point, I had to stop reading I should read it again and reiterate some of the other numerous arguments Bill Bryson puts forward in favour of the English language I can only advise the author to commit himself to the study of foreign languages for a while, and to understand that fun facts , no matter how objectively true they are, don t always have the meaning or significance someone thinks they have if one is not familiar with the field being discussed Unfortunately, Bryson probably thought that he can easily trespass on this territory, since everyone who is able to speak must be a linguist My review may sound harsh, but this book definitely does harm than good And people should remember that fun fact books, be they about natural sciences or linguistics, do not represent knowledge I am sure that people endowed with a deeper understanding of natural science have shaken their head at A Short History Of Nearly Everything as well.


  2. says:

    The one thing that bothered me the most about this book was a huge error it had on swearwords, in reference to my mother tongue Finnish p 210, Ch Swearing, in my Penguin paperback Some cultures don t swear at all The Finns, lacking the sort of words you need to describe your feelings when you stub your toe getting up to answer a phone at 2.00 a.m., rather oddly adopted the word ravintolassa It means in the restaurant I mean, what the hell We Finns have probably the world s most colourful collection of swearwords Someone pulled old Bill s leg, and did it properly too That casts doubt on all he has written, really And nobody says ravintolassa unless they do in fact mean in the restaurant.


  3. says:

    The Mother Tongue is the story of the evolution of the English language, from its humble beginnings as a Germanic tongue to what it has evolved into over the centuries.So, Bill Bryson cheap equals insta buy for me, apparently Too bad even Bill Bryson couldn t make this terribly entertaining.I have a long history as the obscure facts guy at social gatherings, at least, I did when people still invited me to such things However, even I had trouble sticking with this one at times.Old Bill is in fine form, cracking wise and still being informative at every opportunity He didn t get much in the way of interesting material to work with in this case.The book was not without its moments, however I did enjoy the chapter on swearing, as well as numerous tidbits, or titbits, as they were called in a less prudish era, that peppered the other chapters Too bad the gems were scarce and some of the reading resembled the back breaking labor involved in mining.While I found the book informative and mildly amusing, at the end of the day, it s still a book about the history of words Even one of the funnier travel writers alive can t make chicken salad from chicken feathers in this case 2.5 out of 5.


  4. says:

    I gave this book 4 stars for an enjoyable reading experience But, if I m being honest, I m not entirely sure how accurate it is The idea of this being credible nonfiction came to a bit of screeching halt for me when Bryson described Pennsylvania Dutch as an English dialect He seems to have confused the broken English many older Amish and Mennonite speak expressions like make open the door with the separate language of Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a variant of German.It was a fun book And as someone who has never been able to spell, I finally feel the vindication But I wouldn t stake much on this book s accuracy.


  5. says:

    I know exactly a little bit about English, and a little bit less about linguistics in general Studied a few foreign languages, took a linguistics class or two in college I m what you might call a big fan of language A dabbler Certainly not an expert But boy, did I find this book infuriating.My problem with this book is that it gets so much right, and so much wrong The example that really set me off was his treatment of the Welsh language To Bryson, Welsh is as unpronounceable as it looks , and Welsh pronunciations rarely bear much relation to their spellings He then spouts off with a series of jokes that are so ethnocentric and condescending that, if you took them at face value, you couldn t help but feel sorry for the poor backward speakers of silly old Welsh.The problem is, he s completely wrong I happened to study the phonology and orthography of Welsh for about a week in that freshman linguistics class I know, that makes me a big authority, right but in that week I learned something Bryson apparently never bothered to look up Welsh orthography is remarkably regular, about as regular as Spanish It s not at all difficult if you bother to learn the rules, which are far simpler than those of English The fact that I learned them in one week, and remember them decades later, should be some indication of how easy they are The phoneme represented by the double l is called a lateral fricative, and yes, it s hard to pronounce if you don t speak Welsh, but that does not mean it s sometimes pronounced kl and other times thl as Bryson suggests It is always pronounced just like it s spelled But Bryson s Anglo American tin ear failed to pick that up, and he took his ignorance and turned it into a cheap joke at another culture s expense.Knowing that he got Welsh so wrong made me doubt all of the rest of the information in the book And that s a real shame, because it covers such fascinating topics, and it s so very entertainingly written But it s hard to enjoy Bryson s jokes when you have this nagging suspicion that he s bending the truth for the sake of a snappy punchline.


  6. says:

    Non fiction Published in 1990, this book is already a little out of date In its first pages, Bryson reports OED editor Robert Burchfield s theory that American English and British English are drifting apart so rapidly that within two hundred years we won t be able to understand each other That was a theory made back when cell phones still required a battery the size of an unabridged dictionary, long before the internet became such a large part of the way the world communicates, in a time when you couldn t imagine downloading a British Doctor Who or an American Stargate Atlantis to your iPod We live in a new world Unfortunately it s also a world where the Harry Potter books are translated for American readers, lest we be too confused by the lingo What s this Harry s eating a biscuit And wearing a jumper While battling Fizzolian Snargletoothed Whatsits This book is impenetrable JK Rowling aside, with communication technology becoming smaller, cheaper, and powerful, I think we ll still be able to communicate two hundred years down the line Bryson eventually disagrees with Burchfield for many of the same reasons, though he was unable to cite the internet as a factor.In that way, this book is showing its age the chapter on online language use is, of course, conspicuously absent but it s got the history part down Bryson spends most of his time looking at how we got where we are today Where English came from, how it got to England, where it went from there With its in text references, footnotes, extensive bibliography and index, this book looks almost academic, but Bryson, an American living in England, handles it all with a cheerfully low key sense of humor almost as if Terry Pratchett had turned his eye to grammar and even a refreshingly open approach to the word fuck in the chapter on swearing.My one complaint is that, despite being loosely hung on British and American history, for the most part the book lacks a greater structure and ends up reading like a series of interesting facts But, hell, they got my attention, and, as it happened, the attention of everyone around me Hey Did you know the Romans had no word for grey Since English, as this book proves, is a big crazy mess, I guess Bryson can be excused for not being able to wrangle its history into a pleasing order Lack of structure aside, I really enjoyed reading this and will be reading books by Bryson in the future.


  7. says:

    Ever since I learned to read, English has been my favourite language I took to it like a duck takes to water at least, I guess they take to it willingly, and that baby ducks are not paddled until their feathers fly by Mamma Duck to make them This was the cause of the eternal chagrin of my mother who, being a staunch nationalist, wanted me to prefer Hindi over English She recited to me a famous couplet in Malayalam, which said Other languages are merely nannies For man, the native tongue is the mother I replied that in that case, Malayalam is my mother, and both Hindi and English are nannies And I just happened to prefer my English nanny over my native one She had no answer to that Well, I am glad I stuck to English over Hindi, because this is one crazy nanny totally idiosyncratic and eccentric, just like me And to tell you how eccentric, who better than Bill Bryson If you approach this book hoping for a scholarly analysis of the English language, you are going to be sorely disappointed For that don t come to old Bill What he does is to throw out titbits or tidbits in the US, as they the consider the former spelling risque so Bryson tells me of information, some useful, some useless, some bizarre but all fascinating One thing you can be sure of you won t be disappointed.This book is a linguistic, historical and geographical romp through English wherein Bill tackles such varied subjects as1 The origin and spread of English2 The evolution of words3 Pronunciation4 Spelling5 The varieties of English, both inside the UK and outside6 Dictionaries and their producers7 Where names come from8 Profanity9 Wordplay and much .There is not a single boring sentence You are guaranteed to be snickering throughout.


  8. says:

    1 DNF I thought this would be fun I love words and languages and have a passing interest in linguistics I started this with enthusiasm and was enjoying his breezy style until it occurred to me that a lot of what he was saying seemed to be anecdotal You know, limited or no research Then I thought, well, it was written than 25 years ago, so things that sounded like old stories to me may have been new stories then like this one The Eskimos, as is well known, have fifty words for types of snow though curiously no word for just plain snow To them there is crunchy snow, soft snow, fresh snow, and old snow, but no word that just means snow There s a wealth of articles about this half truth I m being generous Here s one how many grains of salt would I need to swallow the declaration that immediately followed An unhealthy amount, I m sure The Italians, as we might expect, have over 500 names for different types of macaroni He goes on to say these include spaghetti and vermicelli He obviously means types of pasta.Then he got into some languages I have a smattering of myself French and German and I began questioning Some of it just sounded wrong, like the quote from an article that says most speakers of other languages aren t aware there is such a thing as a thesaurus.At this point, I decided I d read some reviews to see if anyone who knows than I do felt the same way Sadly, there are a lot You can check the low rating reviews on that actually discuss the many factual errors I stopped reading, thinking I might accidentally absorb some of the facts and perpetuate them myself How disappointing One star for the writing.


  9. says:

    What a hilarious, fascinating, and educational look at our wacky, wonderful, and WAY complicated language If English is your mother tongue, this book will amaze and amuse you with interesting tidbits about just how our language evolved into the wonder it is If you had to learn English as a second language and power to you , then bless your heart for taking on the task You will read this book, and say YES, absolutely, I always wondered, etc Bill Bryson turns his sharp eyes to The Mother Tongue and takes us all on a fabulous journey through and overview of the intricacies of human language You will laugh, smile, and learn a few things while you re at it


  10. says:

    I teach English as a foreign language but other than that linguistics and language learning is just a hobby, having said that, I know enough Irish, German, Czech, Russian and Spanish to know that the things he said about these languages are half truths or complete and utter codswallop For example claiming that the German preposition suffix auf is unusual among foreign words in that it has than one meaning anyone who has spent any time learning a language will tell you that all of them have words with dozens of meanings Except maybe Esperanto Further there is no preposition in any language that cannot be translated into at least three or four prepositions in English, nor are there any English prepositions that don t have numerous translations in the other language That s just how prepositions are They don t translate The first chapter of this book has so many mistakes that I couldn t finish it Almost every sentence has a mistake.It is a collage of newspaper clippings If you read the credits at the back you ll see that he only consulted newspapers and magazines and did no real research I can t go through all the mistakes, I really don t have the time, there are just too many If it continues in this way then this is a work of complete and utter fiction.I loved A Short History of Nearly Everything and now I am frightened that if I knew anything whatsoever about Everything I would have found that that book too was filled with amusing but completely made up factoids.


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download The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, read online The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, kindle ebook The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way 2b95ffe97109 With Dazzling Wit And Astonishing Insight, Bill Bryson The Acclaimed Author Of The Lost Continent Brilliantly Explores The Remarkable History, Eccentricities, Resilience And Sheer Fun Of The English Language From The First Descent Of The Larynx Into The Throat Why You Can Talk But Your Dog Can T , To The Fine Lost Art Of Swearing, Bryson Tells The Fascinating, Often Uproarious Story Of An Inadequate, Second Rate Tongue Of Peasants That Developed Into One Of The World S Largest Growth Industries