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Mother Tongue Library Binding – Nov 1 2001


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Product Details

  • Library Binding
  • Publisher: San Val (November 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1417671483
  • ISBN-13: 978-1417671489
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)


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First Sentence
MORE THAN 300 MILLION PEOPLE IN the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 7 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is a quick read -- entertaining and light -- but no one should trust the facts that are tossed around in it. Bryson's knowledge of languages other than English is shaky at best, and he makes countless mistakes in his various attempts at translation. He also has a very superficial understanding of grammar (as evinced by Chapter 9). On p. 142, he claims that petroleum has both Latin and Greek roots, "(Latin petro + Greek oleum)," but it is the opposite: petra is Greek and oleum is Latin. Not a big deal of course, but this book is literally peppered with inaccuracies such as this one. I wish someone had fact-checked this book, because it could have been a valuable tool. As it is, the information is often imprecise, or just plain wrong.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Ebeling on March 12 2004
Format: Paperback
When Bill Bryson doesn't have anything else to do (yeah, right), he might want to consider issuing a revised edition of this entertaining but somewhat dated book. As he so ably points out, language is protean and much has changed in the last 15 years since he worked on this. In addition to new research and revelations that might correct or amend the text, there is the incomparable affect of the internet that has arisen since this book saw the light, not to mention the "business speak" that corporate culture has been slipping in of late.
That said, there is much to be gained by reading this book. Bryson's wonder and delight in the English language is contagious. While some of the historical information may be familiar at first, especially if you, like him, have read McCrum's THE STORY OF ENGLISH, his sorting out of the origins of our language and historical forces is quite lucid and thorough refresher course. What I especially appreciated was his look at how American and English usage and pronunciation diverged. I did not realize that the plummy "ah" sound that Americans identify so strongly with the British accent, as in glahss and cahn't, only came about in the 18th century, a social fashion that survived. I've come away with a better understanding of the role of how geographic movement and isolation affects language, as well as the very human need to name everything in site.
A note to recently indoctrinated Bryson fans: this was written rather early in his book career, in his English mode. Keep in mind that he only got better and funnier, though there is a sharp intelligence, graceful voice and sly wit behind every sentence of this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 24 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is a history of the English language, with particularly interesting chapters on the beginnings of language, wordplay, pronunciation, swearing, spelling, varieties, and just about everything you would ever want to know about our mother tongue. The only question I still have that Bryson was not able to answer was why was the language of the Angles adopted in England, rather than the language of the dominant group, the Saxons? Bryson says that we just don't know why.
I never thought a book on English (and languages, in general) would get me to laugh out loud, but this one did many times. For example, Bryson writes that "some languages have words that we may be pleased to do without," such as the German word "schadenfreude" (which means "taking delight in the misfortune of others") or how about "sgiomlaireachd" (meaning "dropping in at mealtimes" in Scottish Gaelic)? The delight that Bryson takes in languages is, well, simply wonderful: He writes that strozzapreti is a pasta in Italy and means "strangled priests" and that vermicelli means "little worms." Or how about that "A ydycg wedi talu a dodi eich tocyn yn y golwg?" is Welsh for "Did you remember to pay?" Bryson is also quick to give opinions, such as: "There is no logical reason not to split an infinitive" and "Sentences [can] end with a preposition." Then he tell us the sources of these "dubious" strictures.
Bryson is intrigued about where English words come from, and they come from many other languages: Scandinavian (skull, leg, husband, rotten, their), Norman French (jury, traitor, marriage, govern), native American ("hoochinoo" became hooch!), Mexican-Spanish (rancher), German (dollar), etc. In fact, only about 1% of our words are Old English ones (but they include man, wife, and love) we discover.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Culver on May 29 2003
Format: Paperback
Bill Bryson's book MOTHER TONGUE has an admirable goal, to present the evolution and current state of the English language in a simple and intriguing fashion. However, it is a book full of factual errors. On nearly every page this is an urban myth, folk etymology, or misunderstanding of linguistics.
Bryson writes charming travelogues - THE LOST CONTINENT is a book I'd recommend to any foreigner wanting to learn about rural America - but he is an amateur with an interest in wordplay and not a professional linguist. Much of the book appears to have been thrown together from older books on language for the popular reader, especially those of Otto Jespersen, Mario Pei, and Montagu, which themselves have been criticised for errors and oversimplications.
The errors of the book astound from the start any reader with the slighest knowledge of language. Bryson speaks of the Eskimos having a multitude of words for snow, though this urban myth causes linguists to shudder and has been soundly debunked in THE GREAT ESKIMO VOCABULARY HOAX. Bryson goes on to say that Russian has no words for "efficiency", "engagement ring", or "have fun", a preposterous statement that can be proved wrong by any Russian speaker. His knowledge of British history is also shaky, as he asserts that the Saxon invaders eliminated entirely the former Celtic inhabitants, but in reality they merely imposed their language and Britons now remain essentially the same people genetically as 4,000 years ago.
Every reader who speaks another language besides English will find a most annoying mistake in THE MOTHER TONGUE. For me, a speaker of Esperanto, it was Bryson's ridiculous summary of the language. He begans by mispelling the name of the language's initiator.
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