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

by John McWhorter

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9683214,712 (3.73)60
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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» See also 60 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
I listened to the audio book version, read by the author. On the whole, it was interesting, but it turns out I'm not as interested in language as I had expected, so the low rating is more because of my pack of interest. Some of the jokes fell flat for me, but it was clear that the author was very passionate about the topic. I think some interested in language or social history would probably love it. ( )
  obtusata | Jan 9, 2020 |
Totally up my alley. Pop linguistics. ( )
  mirnanda | Dec 27, 2019 |
I recently got obsessed with the podcast Lexicon Valley, which is currently hosted by John McWhorter. I went on a linguistics kick because of it (not my first!) and picked up a few of his books.

I could definitely read it in his voice, which betrays his undiluted enthusiasm for language. I first read [b: The Language Hoax|18579574|The Language Hoax Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language|John McWhorter|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1392022710s/18579574.jpg|26311591] three and a half years ago when it first came out, and he delivers on the anti-Sapir stance again.

That, however, was the least interesting part of this work for me. I was totally engrossed in his theories of Celtic influence with "ing" verbs and pointless "do." His thought process with Viking language acquisition is not only clear, the man tells a darn good story.

Will definitely be reading more McWhorter. ( )
  charlyk | Nov 15, 2019 |
John McWhorter gives us another lively, fascinating, informative look at language, especially the English language.

English is an offshoot of North Germanic, and in some ways those connections are obvious. In other ways, English is a bit weird even by North Germanic standards--and one section is devoted to making clear how very much the Germanic languages departed, early on, from the norms of essentially all the other Indo-European languages. He also gives us his theory as to how this happened.

But the main focus is English, and English has it's own weird traits. We often talk about all the vocabulary English has borrowed, or stolen, from other languages. McWhorter points out that all languages take useful vocabulary where they find it, and English is a bit unusual in having encountered so many different languages so early in its development.

What makes English different from other North Germanic languages and their descendants is grammar. One of the grammatical oddities of English is what linguists call "meaningless do." As in, "Do you know her?" "Do you want to go to the pool?" It's a word that is doing no grammatical work at all, and there is no equivalent in most Indo-European language, and specifically not in the Germanic languages most closely related to English. We use it many times a day, and never think it sounds odd, but it is odd. Where did it come from? Note: McWhorter is not a big fan of the theory that changes in a language "just happen" that purely by chance resemble structures in other, unrelated languages that happen to be nearby.

There's a similar construction in a couple of languages Old English had a lot of contact with, though, and McWhorter lays out the evidence in, I think, convincing detail.

The other notably weird thing about English compared to its relatives is the nearly-complete loss of the case endings all the other Germanic languages have. McWhorter also thinks the standard explanation for this is mistaken, and makes a very good case for his alternative explanation.

There's a lot more to this book, but these are some of the highlights. It's enjoyable, informative, and a really good listen.

Recommended. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 1, 2019 |
A short, fairly easy read. McWhorter essentially gives his mission statement for the work on the last page: here are some underground, indie stories on why English is the way it is. He's winsome in his approach, and his sense of humor really helps keep the book moving. And as for his arguments? Well, I can't argue with them, nor do I want to after what I read. (Judging from Amazon reviews, however, many are willing to argue with him.) ( )
  wordsampersand | Dec 6, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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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
Haiku summary

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