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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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Note: I half read, half listened to this book on my second visit. I was quite happy to see that it's included in Amazon's WhisperSync program. That is, if you get both the Kindle and Audible versions of this text, it will automatically synchronize your place between those two formats, allowing you to read when that's convenient, or listen when you can't read (e.g., I love listening to audiobooks while I'm driving).

After this second time through McWhorter's take on the untold story of English, I found myself needing to bump my former four star rating up to five stars. It's not necessarily that I agree with everything he says (I honestly don't have the background or discipline to research the subject that deeply), but his approach and style are thoroughly enjoyable and make it easy to read/listen to. Side note: for what it's worth, the author actually does the reading of the audio book format -- he's got a very engaging reading style and I suspect he was perhaps a great lecturer when he still taught linguistics.

On my first read of this book, I wasn't as familiar with McWhorter and his work. I had listened to his lectures from The Great Courses, , and rediscovered, in a sense, my strong interest in linguistics. But honestly, when I later picked this up after finding it on the new releases shelf at our local library, I didn't immediately make the connection.

I'm not going to delve into the actual specifics of the book, but I will say there's a lot to challenge the textbook story of English's development. One day I hope to spend more time investigating the deeper aspects of this subject -- so far I've only gone so far as reading other laymen-oriented histories of the language. But the area is full of intriguing ideas and McWhorter dives into some of the most interesting ones. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in languages.
( )
  tlockney | Sep 7, 2014 |
McWhorter's short book is obviously aimed at the public at large and in the audio version at least, he is a narrator who is engaging and fun and obviously doesn't take himself too seriously, which kept me going even the more arduous bits (I've always had a hard time with grammar). He uncovers some links in the English language which are surprisingly overlooked by most linguists, among others, the connection between the spoken languages of the Celts as well as the Welsh and Cornish who had populated Britain before the invasion of the Germanic tribes, pointing out that not only words, but grammar itself was influenced by these origins. Why historians have ignored these particular linguistic connections is anyone's guess, and he advances some theories which are interesting.

A noteworthy reminder for the modern reader is the fact that language was transmitted purely orally and on the fly, with no formal schooling in existence and was almost never put in writing, with the bulk of the population being illiterate, besides which written and oral versions of languages were often vastly different (for example, Latin exclusively in many Mediterranean countries for written matter, and Arabic, even to this day different in daily speech and printed matter).

He also goes over quite a bit of ground in this section about the use of "unnecessary do" in the modern English language, as in "do you think this is a good idea?" It took me a while to understand this concept, because we use (unnecessary) 'do' so much in our regular speech that we don't even think about it, but it seems no other Germanic languages use it this way.

The end section was of particular interest to me, because having studied in grade school in Israel, I learned how Hebrew was a semitic language which at one point evolved from Phoenician, and here McWhorter makes the argument that even the proto-Germanic language, from which modern languages such as English, German and Dutch evolved, through the sea travels of peoples such as the Phoenicians, probably had similar influences as well.

An overview more than anything, but fascinating in parts. ( )
1 vote Smiler69 | Aug 11, 2014 |
A brisk overview of a few interesting, if in some cases quite vague, theories about the development of English. Color me, at least partially, unconvinced. McWhorter's writing for a very general audience here, and it shows: a bit more rigor and fewer exclamation points would go a long way. ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Oct 22, 2013 |
McWhorter presents an intriguing case for the development of English grammar here in a mostly clear, concise style that makes this a joy to read. I did not realize the book was going to focus on grammar so heavily when I started it, but it was a pleasure to discover how wild a ride English grammar has taken to arrive at its current form. His argument is fairly solid; it lacks concrete evidence in the form of writing, but he manages to present plenty of evidence from the various languages he posits influenced the development of English grammar (primarily Norse, Celtic, and Phoenician). There are a couple of points where the clarity vanished for me, but it may be more of a case that I'm not fully understanding the word choice or the study of linguistics well enough to follow. In all, a very interesting read that I recommend to anyone curious about English's development and wants something new brought to the table. ( )
  WildcatJF | Jul 3, 2013 |
The English language is really interesting. It's weird. Different. It has oddities that make you scratch your head, if you think about them, and wonder, "where on earth did that come from?". It is fluid and dynamic and robust and innovative. This very short book highlights reasons why, and puts forth hypotheses I have not read in other linguistics books. Come on, "fopcorn in Tunisia"? Delicious! The book is worth the read for that chapter alone. ( )
  anaxagoras | Apr 30, 2013 |
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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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