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).
This evolutionary history of the English language from author and editor McWhorter (The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language) isn't an easy read, but those fascinated by words and grammar will find it informative, provocative and even invigorating. McWhorter's history takes on some old mysteries and widely-believed theories, mounting a solid argument for the Celtic influence on English language that literary research has for years dismissed; he also patiently explains such drastic changes as the shift from Old English to Middle English (the differences between written and spoken language explain a lot). Those who have learned English as a second language will recognize McWhorter's assertion that "English really is easy(-ish) at first and hard later"; for that, he says, we can "blame... the Danish and Scandinavian" influence. McWhorter further proves his bona fides with deft analogies, like a comparison between the evolution of English and popping a wheelie on a bicycle; he also debunks, handily, the popular notion that "a language's grammar and the way its words pattern reflect aspects of its speakers' culture and the way they think." McWhorter's iconoclastic impulses and refreshing enthusiasm makes this worth a look for anyone with a love for the language.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Bright, entertaining, accessible
Confronts accepted histories of English with controversial alternate theories of early influence and origin. A fun read.
Entertaining and Illuminating
Finally someone has come up with some theory why English is littered with the word "do" and whay caused the legrndary Great Vowel Shift.
I don't know why the author's theory that one of the greatest unfluences on the English's language came from the Welsh (the only ither "do" language in the world!)
Oh wait. I know why…
Anyway, the author should've stopped about 3/4 through cuz that's when it started to get boring & I shelved it. But the first half or so is GREAT!
I'm reading his book "The Power of Babel" now and it's fascinating! Perfect for amateur linguists who just want the whole mess of the history of language distilled down to its most intrresting parts.