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The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way
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on September 18, 1999
Bryson provides a great companion book for those teaching the origins of the language.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2004
Clearly Bill Bryson knew what he was doing when he wrote this book, The Mother Tongue. He uses his sense of humor and rather witty personality to incorporate in depth looks at how our English system works. Not only does he discuss everything from where words come from to swearing and word playing, he discusses them in a manner that hits all three areas, past, present and futuristic terms. Although it would rather fit for this book to be updated for it in this day and age is a little outdated. Although with the brilliance behind Bill Bryson, he covered some what of the futuristic aspect although it seems rather in the present. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in finding a book with a witty author and a great intellectual outlook.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2004
I enjoyed this myself but I think the readership for this must mainly be people who are already interested in languages. It has rather a lot about such things as vowel shifts in English between fourteen hundred and fourteen fifty. To convert someone into a Bill Bryson addict I would turn them on with one of the travel books. One thing that carries over from his other books is the British/American comparison. He is a mine of information and insights about this. It's also the only language book I've read that fully covers the dirty words and cuss words.
I don't know how the experts feel about its accuracy. I note that he describes William Jones as English. His nationality is relevant because the fact that he was a Welsh speaker was one of the things that enabled him to recognize the relationships between the Indo-European languages. On that subject I take issue with Bryson's implied endorsement of the Economist's criticism of subsidizing Welsh. If you really want to eliminate useless relics of pre-Saxon Britain why not start with say Stonehenge. You could probably save the taxpayers millions of pounds. by bulldozing the place, putting a useful road through, and selling Salisbury Plain off to developers.
I don't know about the alleged thirty Inuit words for snow. I've seen that one debunked and confirmed. Maybe Inuit in Alaska have diffrent words from ones in East Greenland.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2003
I am an undergraduate student in linguistics, and as a gramarian, as well as someone who has a genuine interest in languages, of any sort, I must say that this book represents the lowest and least informed type of linguistic literature to date. Bryson has no concept of science, meticulous research, or humility. Besides his overly glaring inaccuracies about the languages of some Alaskan peoples (they aren't called Eskimos anymore, Bill), there are numerous other, smaller slipups which harm the book's credibility as a well-researched treatice greatly. Most notable among them, for me, was when Bryson glibly stated that the language, Irish Gaelic, has no words for "yes" or "no", so its speakers must resort to expressions such as "I think not". On the contrary, the words, "ta/" and "ni/l" are as often used as not for these expressions. And was I the only one who noticed that in deliniating the list of words Shakespeare gave us, Bryson used obseen twice? Also, much of this information is not only inaccurate, but hopelessly dated (Australians hardly use expressions such as "cobber" anymore). In short, I was so disgusted with the book that I only read about half of it before becoming thoroughly unable to continue. This is rubbish; read something by Stephen Pinker if you want something not only based in scientifically proven fact, but presented by a professor with degrees in the subject.
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