The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way

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9780380715435: The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way
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With dazzling wit and astonishing insight, Bill Bryson--the acclaimed author of The Lost Continent--brilliantly explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience and sheer fun of the English language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can't), to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world's largest growth industries.

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Who would have thought that a book about the English language 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 rhapsodise about "the colourless 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.

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"Complex and maddeningly illogical though it is, English is spoken by more than 300 million people around the world...Its story has been told before, but seldom as deftly or as memorably...An enthralling excursion...A motherlode of delectable trivia."--Burt Hochburg, "The New York Times Book Review""Diverting and richly anecdotal...Bryson is an unalloyed fan who relishes the language's versatility, verb hoard and vast vocabulary."--Robert Taylor, "Boston Globe""Vastly informative and vastly entertaining...A scholarly and fascinating book."--Fred S. Holley, "Los Angeles Times"

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