McWhorter presents a fascinating argument about how English came to its present, rather unique state. His history emphasizes how we got our grammar, and quirks like "the useless 'do'", based on the interaction of German and the indigenous languages (e.g., Celtic). The author reads; I found him very pleasant to listen to. There's some nice humor, too. The only negative is the chapter on the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. It seems like it's in the wrong book and the polemics seems a bit overwrought, given that it's an old argument about whether language shapes thought to any great extent. Skip that chapter and it'll be a fascinating listen/read.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
You and me, as English speakers, do not really know why we're saying what we're saying, because English really is, as John McWhorter tells us, a magnificently bastardized language. So he's going to explain why you "say" something but he "says" it, why he doesn't believe what "they" say about language and culture (for example, why its says nothing about us if we identify our silverware as masculine, feminine, or gender neutral), and why you should not be "frightened" by the idea of German orphans having originated in ancient Phoenicia.
OK, that all sounds rather obtuse. That's because I'm trying to cram into those two run-on sentences a number of concepts McWhorter covers in his book -- why it's OK to say "you and me" instead of "you and I", why we use the word "do" so much when it doesn't actually mean anything in that context, why we say "we're saying" so often instead of "we say" (and how we would sound like Yoda if we spoke English the way most other Germanic languages are spoken).
And he explains why we say "they" so much when we mean "he" or "she" (and why only "he" or "she" have an "s" at the end of their verbs), why we say "going to" to indicate the future (and that the first written instance of this usage in Shakespeare literally meant the act of "going to" do something), why our nouns don't have genders as in Spanish or German, and how some words with ambiguous etymologies (like "frighten") may have come into our language from as long ago and far away as ancient Phoenicia.
And McWhorter does it all without getting too academic, despite being a professor of linguistics, and in an entertaining tone, which he himself narrates (although I was put off on two or three occasions when there was a little laugh in his narration when he was contradicting other linguists or linguistic theories). I found myself repeating many of his examples to friends and family during the time I was listening to the book and afterwards.
I vastly prefer fiction to non-fiction, but every once in a while, I enjoy a good work of non-fiction, and I've come to believe that such books, when not too weighty in subject matter, make for good audiobooks. If you're interested in a subject like how the English language evolved, with influences as broad as Welsh, Cornish, Old Norse, French, Latin, and maybe even Phoenician, and what it says about culture, then and now, I would highly recommend this book as an easy, entertaining, and illuminating listen.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
The author/narrator’s enthusiasm and humor are among the best parts of this book. The author describes some mildly off-beat theories about the evolution of the English language. I enjoyed hearing these ideas even if I was not completely convinced. There is also a bunch of interesting fun facts about English grammar. This book refreshingly focuses mostly on grammar while most other books in this genre emphasis etymology. The material gets a bit complicated for audio from time to time and the author does not always support his theories well enough to be compelling, but overall this was interesting and fun.
It seems to me the author mischaracterizes the mainstream linguists’ hesitation to accept his theories. McWhorter repeatedly points out that the alternative to his theories is to believe some language features appeared at random. When there is insufficient evidence to support a theory about a language feature, most mainstream linguists choose to believe the source of the feature is unknown (and thus may have arisen randomly).
This is a book for aspiring linguists. It's interesting to know how the English language got so weird, like why some words change vowels to change tense (sing and sang) and some words just have something added at the end (wait and waited). The author explains the influences of Germanic, Celtic, Welsh, and Latin languages. It was also fascinating to learn that while we feel English makes sense and seems "normal," it's actually quite the oddball compared to other European languages. Other languages have two or three genders: feminine, masculine, and neutral. It's common in other European languages to refer to inanimate objects as either male or female. The author also gives examples of words like "ask", "question", and "interrogate" coming from Proto-Germanic, French, and Latin influences, respectively. Proto-Germanic words are simple, brute. French is polite. Latin is commanding. Hence, why there are so many Latin terms for law and legal contracts. If you don't have a deep fascination for linguistics, it's a little hard getting through the parts that cover the evolution of sounds and words from period to period or how the word "daughter" is similar with examples given in German, Norse, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, and a dozen other languages.
I would rank this book at the top of the list, considering I couldn't stop listening. I used to hate English because of the way it changed so radically from its earlier form. After listening to why it changed so much I have a new respect of our language.
History of Germanic languages.
Sometimes reading about grammar and linguistics can be boring but listening to it brings out the story so that it is extremely interesting. Grammar is history.
Footsteps of the English Language through 1000 years.
Not only does the Author tell us why English changed but where possibly the Proto-Germanic languages sprung from.
I liked the author's sense of humor, and he does a good job reading the text. However, the material truly does repeat itself, giving the effect of an article fleshed to book length.
I like Jack Reacher style characters regardless of setting. Put them in outer space, in modern America, in a military setting, on an alien planet... no worries. Book has non moralistic vigilante-justice? Sign me up! (oh, I read urban fantasy, soft and hard sci-fi, trashy vampire and zombie novels too)
It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect: a bit of a background on why English is the kind of language it is. Not particularly surprising or novel, but it was interesting enough to pass the time. English seems to be different from its "related" languages and the author is quite, err, let's use the word "adamant" (rather than ranting) about the Celtic impact on English. Yes, he does admit that traditional scholars disagree and offers his own "evidence" but it isn't his disagreement with the establishment that got a little annoying but his repetitive "digs" on the subject.
I think it's very suitable for audio because he discusses nuances of language/pronunciation which I don't think would have been as noticeable in writing. He narrates it fairly well, but you can tell it's not his primary job. I think his pronunciation of foreign words was clear enough, and I have no idea if it was correct.
The information was great, but the author wrote the entire book as if he was responding to a linguistic theory that he disagreed with, constantly referring to how his argument refutes the standard theories. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the standard theories and would have greatly appreciated if he had simply stated his own case convincingly instead. Frankly, the most frustrating part about it was how easy it would be to simply edited out the arguing parts. They were neither informative nor helpful and were thus, completely superfluous.
"fabric artist and quilter"
I wasn't expecting this book to be on English grammar, but an up to date version of where words came from. But what the book explained was the impact of the grammar of existing languages (gaelic, cornish, welsh etc) on English. How and why English is different from very similar languages that developed from proto-german in the years BC. It made fascinating listening not least due to the fact that the narrator was the researcher and made it fun and amusing to listen to.
My father was a stickler for correct English both spoken and written. I remember my childhood being spent constantly corrected for incorrectly constructed English. I now appreciate those lessons and take great joy when I see poorly structured or incorrect English spoken or written, particularly if its by someone who should know better. If I had been taught the reason why English is oddly constructed I might have made less mistakes but this book and the research is relatively new
I am sure that my father would have revelled in this book, I know I particularly enjoyed it and anyone with an interest in languages and the development of English would also enjoy this book.
Whorter has some very interesting things to say and since he is something of an "odd man out" from majority thinking, it is natural that much of his points are "push off" points. He makes some of them very well, too, but tends to go too far, becoming guilty of the very same kind of arrogance he accuses others of displaying. The last hour is shockingly preachy and just plain odd.