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Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language

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Mother Tongue is a series of essays on the origins of human language, with plenty of interesting scientific insights, then to the messy origins of English amid the various waves of invasions of the original Celtic peoples of Britain by Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Normans, Scandinavians (Vikings), and so forth, to its growing status as a global language. His use of “we” oscillates throughout, from encompassing British people, to American people, to a kind of Anglo-American hybrid, but there’s always the underlying assumption that the English speaker who will pick this book up will be one of the two, and almost certainly white. Ever since I learned to read, English has been my favourite language - I took to it like a duck takes to water (at least, I guess they take to it willingly, and that baby ducks are not paddled until their feathers fly by Mamma Duck to make them). According to some estimates almost two thirds of the American population, living on some 8o percent of the land area, speak with the same accent—a quite remarkable degree of homogeneity. David Edwards, head of the Joint National Committee on Languages, ‘If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me,’ [Quoted in the Guardian, April 30, 1988].

This was quite a fascinating and entertaining book, up until the point where Bill Bryson claims that Finns don't swear. Lack of structure aside, I really enjoyed reading this and will be reading more books by Bryson in the future.The French don’t have the breadth of vocabulary to distinguish between “man” and “gentleman”, the way English speakers do, proclaims Bryson. Also, Irish and Welsh orthography is far more internally consistent than is that of English—but Bryson only allows the features of English to be virtues. We know that the Oxford Dictionary added "twerk", "derp" and "selfie" back in 2013 (which caused quite a bit of uproar), and in June 2017 alone, there are at least 100 new words.

The Eskimos, as is well known, have fifty words for types of snow—though curiously no word for just plain snow. Summary: This amusing and informative book surveys the history of the English language and all its vagaries and perplexities of word origins, spellings, and pronunciations and why it has become so successful as a world language.the true story of an American lady, newly arrived in London, who opened her front door to find three burly men on the steps informing her that they were her dustmen. I also didn't know that Latin evolved into French, Spanish, and Italian among other languages, to my embarrassment. I enjoyed this part of the book the most, learning a lot about the origins of the language that was especially useful now that I live in England myself.

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