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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold…
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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English

by John McWhorter

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Linguist/author/narrator John McWhorter focuses on grammar rather than vocabulary in this short history of the English language. And by grammar I don’t mean those nit-picky rules but, instead, the actual construct, word order and tense expressions of the English we speak today. The section about possible Celtic influences, including ‘meaningless do’ and ‘progressive –ing’, along with his case for a Semitic influence (ancient Phoenician) are worth the read in themselves. ( )
  wandaly | Jun 30, 2016 |
Fascinating. As he says (and says, and says), most "how did English get to be the language it is" books focus primarily on vocabulary and how Germanic Saxon and Romantic Norman French crossed to produce our odd language. And then he points out that borrowing vocabulary is not even unusual, but the way English grammar works is unique. It's not Germanic, it's not Romantic - it has some features that it shares (only) with Celtic languages, specifically Welsh and Cornish, but even there it doesn't match exactly. He goes through the likely history of the language, and discusses how these grammar changes didn't show up in the written language and have therefore been largely invisible to etymologists and linguists studying the development of English. Another section discusses the illogic of prescriptivist rules, comparing some of the things we insist on today (it's Sam and I went to the store, not Sam and me...) to earlier requirements that sound just silly now. He also goes into the Sapir-Whorf theory that grammar influences/controls perceptions - mostly to argue that it's nonsense - and presents a theory that Old Norse, before the Vikings came to England, was already modified...by Phoenician. Lots of neat ideas, not a lot of supporting evidence (for good reason, he argues), a very enjoyable voice. I think I'll be looking up some of his books on various Creoles - I'd like to hear more from him. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Apr 11, 2016 |
Eric Conger
  jmail | Mar 21, 2016 |
Some parts boring (since I have little interest in grammar) and other parts quite entertaining (especially the parts slamming the rules of grammar). If you skip the parts that are belabored and enjoy the parts that you find interesting, you might find it worthwhile. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
nonfiction
  KylaS | Feb 18, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Introduction

Was it really all just about words?
One

We Speak a

Miscegenated Grammar
The Welshness of English
The first chapter in the new history of English is that bastardization I mentioned.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
A survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar

Why do we say "I am reading a catalog" instead of "I read a catalog"? Why do we say "do" at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, Our Magnificent Bastard Language distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history.

Covering such turning points as the little-known Celtic and Welsh influences on English, the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it all during the fifth century ad, John McWhorter narrates this colorful evolution with vigor. Drawing on revolutionary genetic and linguistic research as well as a cache of remarkable trivia about the origins of English words and syntax patterns, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English- and its ironic simplicity due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain. This is the book that language aficionados worldwide have been waiting for (and no, it's not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition).

Table of Contents
Introduction
Chapter One: We Speak a Miscegenated Grammar
Chapter Two: A Lesson from the Celtic Impact
Chapter Three: We Speak a Battered Grammar
Chapter Four: Does Our Grammar Channel Our Thought?
Chapter Five: Skeletons in the Closet
Notes on Sources
Acknowledgments
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Why do we say "I am reading a catalog" instead of "I read a catalog"? Why do we say "do" at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, author McWhorter distills hundreds of years of lore into one lively history. Covering the little-known Celtic and Welsh influences on English, the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it all during the fifth century AD, and drawing on genetic and linguistic research as well as a cache of trivia about the origins of English words and syntax patterns, McWhorter ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English--and its ironic simplicity, due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain. This is the book that language aficionados have been waiting for.--From publisher description.… (more)

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