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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English
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McWhorter rests his contrarian case on such arguments as he deals with other surviving bits of circumstantial evidence. His chief argument is that the history of English may best be understood as a consequence of the mixing of languages, not merely the addition of new words from foreign sources or the consequence of changes that "just happened." He seeks to explain the principal changes, not merely and dully to document them. Starting with the invasion of the British Isles by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes after the Roman departure, McWhorter disputes the notion that these invaders completed a successful Holocaust on the native Celtic peoples.Read more ›
It's relevant to mention that McWhorter is black, because a racial subtext runs through this book. McWhorter's linguistic specialty is Creole languages--those lilting mash-ups created by black slaves out of native tongues and European languages. In Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, he suggests that English is a kind of Creole, and chides "traditional" linguists for ignoring the way English was "gumbo-ed" by the Celts, Vikings, and Phoenicians.
First, McWhorter attempts to show that Celts had a significant effect on Old English, evident in our unique use of the "meaningless do" (we say "Do you want to go shopping" whereas all other languages say something like "Want you to go shopping?") and progressive constructions (we say "Mary is singing" whereas all other languages say something like "Mary sings."). In another chapter, McWhorter agrees that Norse invasions of Angle-land caused many of our inflectional endings to drop off but goes further and insists that Norse influence truly battered our grammar. Finally, McWhorter goes out on an intriguing limb in proposing that Phoenician influenced Proto-Germanic (he gives as evidence striking similarities in Germanic and Semitic words). In the middle of these assaults on traditional linguistics, McWhorter pops in a rant against grammar rules, insisting that all grammar is just fashion.Read more ›
Did you know English grammar was probably profoundly influenced by Welsh? Do you need to hear that again? Wait, I think you do.
Let's talk about it some more here!
Etc. etc. etc. Do you get the idea?
Okay! Now let's talk some more about it! Some scholars don't take it seriously that English grammar could be strongly influenced by Welsh. Can you believe that? Let's discuss that here.
The second idea in the book is that the Semitic languages affected the structure and vocabulary of ancient Indo-European. This again is a possibly unprovable hypothesis, but fascinating. Here, I would have liked more solid info, but at least what was presented was done concisely and interestingly.
The third idea is simply that grammar and language change all the time, and that they are created by their users. Hence there is no *linguistic* reason not to say "Me and Steve went to the store" or "She gave a party for Steve and I." This is not a new idea to anyone who has read anything in linguistics, but it can be useful to announce it to newbies.
This section, too, goes on and on and on and on.
On the whole, Mr McWhorter is an entertaining writer in brief doses. He makes some interesting points, but you won't easily find their tiny arms waving in the flood of repetitive assertions. The book is a magazine article stre-e-e-e-tched into a way-too-long book.
I have hope though! The footnotes were manageable this time.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English provided me a great deal of new information about the history of this important mordern language. Read morePublished 16 days ago by Luis Cabrera
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is the most entertaining book about linguistics that I've read. Not only did it give me excellent background to how and why our language formed, but... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
It was a book club selection I had to read, but I didn't enjoy it much. It seems the author doth protest too much. Read morePublished 2 months ago by E. Peterson
John McWhorter is terrific - I find his language books as entertaining as they are educational.Published 3 months ago by JG
This is an extremely chatty, witty and exceptionally informative history of the development of English from its Germanic roots. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Robin Helweg Larsen
I have always wondered what made English such a different language and McWhorter gives the answers. I have read it twice so far and loaned it to a few people.Published 4 months ago by Donald R Webre
The best ever analysis of English Language. I have degree in English Language and the way this book is written is absolutely incredible. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Masha
There are some interesting points in the book about Celtic and Scandinavian influences on English grammar, but I agree with other reviewers here that the author is highly... Read morePublished 6 months ago by farington
Extremely disappointing. One man's amateur musings on the mechanics of the English language. The arguments are almost entirely unsupported. Read morePublished 6 months ago by hallstot