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 Publishers Weekly
Bryson's blend of linguistic anecdotes and Anglo-Saxon cultural history proves entertaining but superficial. "While his historical review is thorough. . . he mostly reiterates conventional views about English's structural superiority," said PW. "He retells old tales with fresh verve . . . but becomes sloppy when matters of rhetoric and grammar arise."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.