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The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
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The Mother Tongue (original 1990; edition 1991)

by Bill Bryson

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5,132101870 (3.89)161
Member:JeffV
Title:The Mother Tongue
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:Harper Perennial (1991), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:****
Tags:Non-fiction, History, Linguistics

Work details

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson (1990)

  1. 30
    The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg (John_Vaughan)
  2. 10
    A History of the English Language by Albert C. Baugh (Mrs.Stansbury)
    Mrs.Stansbury: This is an academic version of 'Mother Tongue' this one covers about 85% of the same material but in much greater detail and depth. The maps and charts are fantastic.
  3. 11
    The Story of Language by Mario Pei (jsoos)
    jsoos: A more general treatment, not limited to English
  4. 00
    The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories by Merriam-Webster (VivienneR)
  5. 01
    Talk to the Hand : The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life (or six good reasons to stay home and bolt the door) by Lynne Truss (mikeg2)
  6. 01
    The Cambridge encyclopedia of language by David Crystal (kevinashley)
    kevinashley: Crystal's work is more scholarly in tone but he's an equally accessible writer - and more comprehensive and accurate. If English, rather than language in general, is your particular interest you may find his books on English more interesting (I haven't read those.)… (more)
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» See also 161 mentions

English (98)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (101)
Showing 1-5 of 98 (next | show all)
I almost always enjoy Bryson's books and learn a little something to boot. This book is lots of fun for a word-lover like me. It has chapters on the history of English, pronunciation, names, swearing, spelling, and lots more. ( )
  glade1 | Sep 15, 2014 |
read in london/stratford while listening to those accents. lots of interesting info. ( )
  mahallett | Jun 25, 2014 |
I'm fairly certain that Bill Bryson can make anything interesting, so this was a good "first" foray into reading non-fiction from cover to cover. First, the good: Bryson's wit and point of view have yet to displease me, and his linguistic flourishes are deft. I found myself, however, disagreeing with some of his points and worrying about a lack of evidence on others. (Pronunciation was different because spelling was different? Really?) But all in all, I found some fairly interesting titbits (not a typo), and find myself wishing I had a better memory for random facts (and in this case, word etymologies). ( )
  reflexandresolve | Dec 6, 2013 |
A hilarious book about the origins of English and its many quirks (and why they happen). A good read for anyone who loves the English language and enjoys philology as a hobby.
Yes, this book is a little outdated; it was written in 1990 and thus leaves out everything that happened since (and a lot has changed, with cell phones, texting and computers). But it does give a great review until that point in time.
It is light, full of sarcasm and light-hearted humour. The book gives a concise run through English origins and the way it developed since (what we have an account of), and also of the weird things that resulted (or just occurred) in the convoluted way of the language's development.
I do wish he would revise the book to add the last 20 years that had a major impact on the language. But it doesn't take from the book's many attributes.
Really, if you love English - read it. You'll enjoy it immensely. ( )
  AdvaKramer | Sep 25, 2013 |
Ever wonder why English is so convoluted and strange? This book explains why. Having just moved from the US to Australia, I've been wondering about this quite a bit, so I found this to be a very interesting read.

The book is not exactly up to date -- for example, it has a reference to President Bush (the first one). But most of the content here holds up.

It should be said that this is not Bill Bryson's funniest work, and it can at times feel like reading essays for a college class. But Bryson's excitement for the topic shines through. If the subject strikes you at all as interesting, give this one a look! ( )
  wethewatched | Sep 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 98 (next | show all)
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To Cynthia
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More than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to.
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It appears that there is no canonical title, but two distinct titles. If the canoncial title field is left blank, LibraryThing will continue to use the democratic method for populating everyone’s ‘your books’ listing (and maybe elsewhere) with the most commonly used title on LibraryThing. On 20 Jan 2014 Bill Bryson’s home page showed two distinct editions, the UK edition and the US edition, with two distinct titles. It appears that the US edition was published first but not verified.

US edition - The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way – 1 June 1990 (??)

UK edition - Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language – 1 Oct 1990 (??)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0380715430, Paperback)

Who would have thought that a book about English would be so entertaining? Certainly not this grammar-allergic reviewer, but The Mother Tongue pulls it off admirably. Bill Bryson--a zealot--is the right man for the job. Who else could rhapsodize about "the colorless murmur of the schwa" with a straight face? It is his unflagging enthusiasm, seeping from between every sentence, that carries the book.

Bryson displays an encyclopedic knowledge of his topic, and this inevitably encourages a light tone; the more you know about a subject, the more absurd it becomes. No jokes are necessary, the facts do well enough by themselves, and Bryson supplies tens per page. As well as tossing off gems of fractured English (from a Japanese eraser: "This product will self-destruct in Mother Earth."), Bryson frequently takes time to compare the idiosyncratic tongue with other languages. Not only does this give a laugh (one word: Welsh), and always shed considerable light, it also makes the reader feel fortunate to speak English.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:05 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Provides a humorous history of the English language covering such topics as spelling, pronunciation, swearing, and wordplay.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141037466, 0141040084

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