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Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language

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His discussion of pronunciation and particularly the shifts in vowel sounds was fascinating, For example house was once pronounced hoose. Trumpet at him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigor. You know, there are probably better books on the history of the English language, there are probably deeper books on the nature of linguistics, there are probably a million reasons why you might not read this book - but it tackles something that we all ought to be interested in, our mother tongue, with style, flare and humour. Of course that does mean you cannot believe a word of it since he is always looking for the most shocking or the most amusing way to present each topic. When he becomes enamored on a topic (such as the history of our houses in "At Home" or the history of our universe in "A Short History of Nearly Everything") Bryson digs up all kinds of interesting facts and stories and anecdotes and puts it all together in a delightfully interesting collection of essays.

It made me wonder, though, since English is very much a dynamic language co-created together by the whole world depending on the generation, how much it will change in the next 100 years? Bryson eventually disagrees with Burchfield for many of the same reasons, though he was unable to cite the internet as a factor. The book is entertaining and goes a long way to explain how English is spoken in so many parts of the world, much more so than Portuguese, another colonial language. Not only did he clearly do little by way of preparatory work for discussion of the non-English words (I think I replayed his attempt at the Irish word “geimhreadh” 3 or 4 times because it was that bizarre), but also did things like repeatedly pronounce “short-lived” with the same I in “lived” as in “live music. To focus on the languages I know best out of those he discusses—Irish, Hiberno-English, and French—is to make me sigh heavily.Which does not change the fact that there are a lot of words that I do not know (and I'm fully aware of that). I think I have read at least two of his works previously and he never disappoints in making me chuckled or even roaring with laughter. I stopped reading, thinking I might accidentally absorb some of the "facts" and perpetuate them myself! Published in 1990, the book was written before Internet changed the way the world communicates and hence a lot of the content regarding the spread of languages is hopelessly outdated by now.

Also, the pronounciation of a specific language is difficult or easy according to your own mother tongue. What he does is to throw out titbits (or tidbits in the US, as they the consider the former spelling risque - so Bryson tells me) of information, some useful, some useless, some bizarre: but all fascinating. I could go on and demolish his assertions about the Australian accents (he seems to think that any one of us speaks one, only) and if somebody is going to be arch about other people's proofing, page 139, the first page of chapter 10 needs to be looked at HARD. However, I think that it is directed primarily to English native speakers, because they will be able to capture and better understand all the issues that the author raises. I read this book in English and I must admit that although it is very interesting, as a non-English speaker, I was not able to fully appreciate it and understand it.The sole exception is in the name of the Australian Labor Party, which adopted that spelling in the 19th century. Nevertheless, the book itself is a bundle of joy of finding invariably humorous take on how word changed - even corrupted - over the course of time. Then there is the matter of spelling and the role of printing and dictionaries in bring a greater if not complete uniformity to spelling--is it ax or axe, judgment or judgement (it is fascinating that the spell check in this word processor highlighted the latter of these two, and yet both are accepted with the shortened forms preferred). Aluminium at least follows the pattern set by other chemical elements— potassium, radium, and the like.

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