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

The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
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May 18, 2008

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Read in May, 2008

A topic of interest written by one of my favourite authors - I was excited to find it on a bookshelf but in the end it took quite a long time to read. While reading this book it felt like Bryson deliberately got muddled and wallowed in the irregularities and complexities of language, so in a sense it wasn't as clear to read as A Short History of Nearly Everything. In some reviews of A Short History of Nearly Everything I read that some factual mistakes had crept into print as they have done in The Mother Tongue, but these are few and far between and of no significance.

Probably what I like most about reading books by Bill Bryson is his sense of humour and focus on the trivial. While there is a lot of trivia in the book (St Patrick was the son of a Roman who was abducted to Ireland), I definitely found The Mother Tongue the least humourous of his books that I've read. The chapters look at different parts of language and often cast a fresh eye over them, questioning spellings, idioms and accents that we wouldn't normally bat an eye at.

The Mother Tongue has a very broad approach which also includes: the history of English, dialects, English as global language, word games, swearing and grammar.

At times the book seems a bit dated (it's almost 20 years old), but generally it is relevant and interesting to read.
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Dana I thought the same thing about the book being dated. I think he should update it with a new edition about the Internet age. English has gained a whole new prominence thanks to the Internet.


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