"More than 350 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to." Thus begins Bill Bryson's engaging jaunt through the quirks and byways of the world's most baffling language.
Bryson covers the entire history of language, from the first crude utterings of Neanderthal man to the explosion of English as a global language in this century. We learn why "island," "freight," and "colonel" are spelled in such unphonetic ways, and why "four" has a "u" in it while "forty" does not. We also discover that Noah Webster occasionally plagiarized and that Samuel Johnson ("Dictionary Johnson"), though no plagiarist, was often careless and inaccurate.
"MOTHER TONGUE is a book that will, like the English language itself, amuse, delight and occasionally astonish you." (Publisher's Source)
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Who would have thought that a book about English 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 rhapsodize about "the colorless 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.From the Publisher:
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