The Mother Tongue

The Mother Tongue

English & How It Got That Way

Book - 2001
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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.

Publisher: New York : Perennial, 2001
ISBN: 9780380715435
Branch Call Number: 420.9 B916m 2001
Characteristics: 270 pages ; 20 cm


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Oct 06, 2018

While somewhat dated and inclusive of some errors, this delightful book remains a wonderful look into the English language. It's crammed full of amusing anecdotes that help to illuminate what once was merely the tongue of downtrodden peasants. English's domination of modern international society seems as secure as ever given the strengths that the author aptly describes.

as with other Bryson books, this is well researched and fascinating. Anyone with an interest in language should enjoy this book.

I found the book poorly organized and some information was wrong ( the Inuit do not have 50 words for snow). And that dumb reference to Canadians saying "aboot" .
Nevertheless reference to language wars over the centuries was interesting. The book, "Lexicographer's Dilemma" is a much better read to learn about history of some of our English spelling and grammar.

Jun 21, 2017

I agree with some of the other comments that the book is outdated. At times it was clear the book was written before the ubiquity of the internet. It was still an interesting read. It provided an engaging history of the English language until shortly before the new millennium.

ArapahoeLesley Nov 23, 2016

Written in Bryson's voice and filled with quirk and randomness it is as good as any of his books but having probably been written in the late 80s and published in 1990 much is simply outdated. He needs to do a revised addition!

Jul 08, 2016

Despite the age of this book, I find it still pertinent today. Own it, love it. The audio version doesn't do it justice. I never realized just how difficult learning English can be. Maybe I'll become more forgiving to those who seem to cling to their native language despite living in the US for ever so long & don't seem to make much effort to speak the language of the land.

Mar 14, 2016

Fabulous, fun, and detailed, this is a great look at the origins of our modern English language. It's a book I've read several times over and find a terrific amount of humor in even while being informative. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a nice overview.

rb3221 Dec 25, 2015

Did you know? As the title states, Bryson takes the reader on an interesting journey of English and how it got that way. He provides us with a reasonably straight forward good overview of his topic along with a variety of interesting facts for the general reader. Some examples: "Language comes ultimately from spontaneous utterances of alarm, joy, pain, and so on." He states that children "can effortlessly learn two structurally quite different languages simultaneously." And did you know that the fall of Rome helped usher in our own tongue. Fascinating that Shakespeare "coined some 2,000 words and gave us countless phrases such as one fell swoop, in my minds eye, vanish into thin air, cold comfort" and countless others. And very interesting that "just forty-three words account for fully half of all the words in common use and that just nine account for fully one quarter in almost any sample of written English."
In addition, Bryson spends twelve pages explaining where words come from and has a full chapter on swear words. Overall a worthwhile read.

Jan 24, 2013

Bryson is shamelessly partial to English. He has produced a book that thrives on that partiality. It is humorous, thick with informative tidbits, and entertaining.

Nov 24, 2011

Good intro to language history, since he also comments on other languages, in comparison with English. More humourous and colloquial than one would expect / want from a "serious" language book.


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Jun 10, 2008

Bill Bryson's travel books are always fascinatingly hilarious, horrendous romps. He brings that same humour and attention to the oddest detail to this examination of the english language.


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