Chris's Reviews > The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way

The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
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's review
Apr 19, 08

bookshelves: history, language, top-shelf
Recommended for: English teachers, English speakers
Read in April, 2008

This is my second Bryson book for the year (the first being A Short History of Nearly Everything), but this is probably the fourth time I've read this book. I'm an English teacher, so my desire to know more about the language I'm teaching is, well, pretty high. One does not necessarily lead to the other, of course - I've met plenty of English teachers who couldn't care less about the history of the language, just how to teach it. Not that there's anything wrong with that....

Bryson excels in many things, and one of his best talents is taking something horribly complex, like the rise of English as a dominant world language, and making it not only understandable, but entertaining. He takes us through, of course, where languages come from and how they've evolved over the last umpteen thousand years. With special emphasis on the evolution of English, of course, from a commoners' tongue composed of a mishmash of Anglo-Saxon and Norman, with regular infusions from the Romance languages and Scandinavia to the language of an Empire, spanning the globe and finding niches in the most unexpected of places. He talks about the origins of words pronunciation and how it's changed, and the multiplicity of English dialects. He covers the split of American and British English, and how half the time when the Brits get all snobby about an "Americanism," it's actually a word that was coined in Britain but fell out of favor. He covers the attempts to catalog English and standardize it, to simplify it and study it.

He even has a whole chapter on profanity.

So yeah, if you've every wondered where the language you're speaking comes from, check it out. It's rather unashamedly pro-English in terms of its comparison with other languages, as you might expect, but Bryson does his best to point out the occasions where other languages accomplish things that English cannot. You can't help but notice, however, that Bryson is an English speaker who loves the English language, so expect a bit of bias to seep in there.

Nonetheless, it's very entertaining and informative. Enjoy.
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message 1: by Merritt (new)

Merritt I loved "A Walk in the Woods." The discussion of bears as possible pack animals had me laughing out loud (and quoting it obnoxiously to my friends)! He's so talented.

I can’t wait to pick up this book- don’t let anyone say us chemistry teachers only like science.

Most anything by Bryson is a good read!
Have a great day...muchos besos,
Merritt


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