I found myself fully engaged in what could have been a very dull dissertation. So glad the author read his own work. He charming and very knowledgeable and passionate about his subject.
Celts, Vikings, Romans and the French. Maybe Semitic and Phoenician. And it may all tie together. Listen to the story of the magnificent language called English.
The book is narrated by the author who tosses in some funny asides during the reading.
It does a good job of offering an explanation for some of the more peculiar eccentricities of our language, such as "meaningless do" and the -ing suffixes.
I found the work gripping; it's short, which meant that I wound up listening to the whole thing in one day. John McWhorter makes a compelling case for the influences of Celtic on English. He reads his own work, which on one hand means that he knows the words he's reading and gets the emphasis and pronunciation right, but he does make the rookie mistake of laughing at his own jokes, which is a bit off-putting. Fortunately, that's mostly at the beginning of the book.
What a delightful book! Since I finished listening to it, I've found myself thinking a lot about how interesting English actually is from a grammatical perspective and not just a lexical one.
Let me confess that I'm not coming at this as a newbie. I am fluent in French, German and Dutch in addition to English (my mother tongue) and I've studied Spanish and Scottish Gaelic. I even did reasonably well in a Junior Honors History of English class when I studied abroad in Scotland (many years ago.) I've read a lot of the classic materials on the history of English. I've even taught students the official line: the power of English lies in its ability to absorb words so easily.
McWhorter blasts through a lot of those myths with wit and charm. He does a pretty good job of pronouncing things in the European languages I speak. ( I can't speak for Danish, etc. He does hand off to a Mandarin speaker once. Probably a good move.) He has a lot to teach those of us who've been handed a story of English that, well, doesn't quite add up.
It's a short book, so I won't share here any of what I learned. You've got to hear his arguments and his evidence, then judge for yourself. I assure you, this will not be a rehash of things you already know.
"It's been agony, but I couldn't have done it any other way." - Quentin Crisp
I thought this might be fun to listen to since I tend to be interested in this subject matter in a casual way, but I found the author's reading to be sort of annoying. He's one of those narrators who seems to think audiobook listeners are all nine years old.
I also found the tone of the book somewhat off-putting. This book could well have been subtitled "Everyone Who Studies Languages for a Living Is a Dumb-Dumb, and Here Are Endless Straw Man Arguments to Show That I'm Smarterer Than All of Them."
I got this from one of audible's sale days. It's quirky and fun. It's not earth shattering or terribly important, but it is a romp through the history of our English language, and this makes for an enjoyable read.
This is a great book, it builds a very lucid and compelling case for highlighting how the grammatical structures of English, not just its lexicon, have developed through continuous interactions between a whole host of languages driven by cultural exchange and proximity. The author starts off highlighting a number of quirks in the English language that would make no sense in many of the other languages that comprise its ancestry - special mention to the meaningless 'do' as in 'do you want to read this book' or 'do not go there' - in almost every other language on the planet, this would be rendered as 'want you to read this book' and 'go not there' respectively - the 'do' is meaningless and absent in all the languages of the Germanic family to which English traces its descent. The author then brings to our notice that Celtic, the language of the natives of Britain before the Anglo Saxon influx just so happens to have the very same 'do / do not' structure - surely, it's a straightforward assumption then that the English 'do / do not' can be traced to Celtic. Similarly with many other oddities and quirks, like the distinct lack of case ending suffixes (Old Norse), genders etc can be traced to the many other languages which have impacted English not just by transferring a few words here and there but fundamentally changing its grammar. Over the course of the many chapters, the author deftly shows that English is the outcome of the simplifications brought about by a number of different groups of people finding themselves on the same island and trying to communicate with each other. To facilitate this inter-cultural communication, English substantially simplified its grammar as it took on eclectic features from the source languages. Hence, the language we speak today, truly is a miscegenated, bastard tongue. Without ever using the term 'creole' , to my mind, the author at least points in the direction of conceding that the evolutionary forces that created English are the same as the ones that lead to the development of creoles. Thus, the author cheers us on, saying that the next time someone tries to be a Grammar Nazi and insist on a particular syntax or structure (who vs whom anyone?) they would do well to remember that the origins of English are rooted in permissive and wholesale changes which pride convenience and intelligibility over rigid adherence to rules. Great book to learn more about our language and an excellent narration by the auther himself who brings in his voice the passion and the erudition with which he wrote this book.
Since he is a scholar and the author of the book, his narration is excellent as he knows the points to be stressed
This is a great book. I'm so happy it was on the $1.99 sale because I probably wouldn't have listened to it otherwise. Super fascinating. I look at our words in a whole new way now. The author sets forth potentially dry material in a clear an entertaining manner. Though I'm a visual learner, especially with words/languages, I'm glad I listened to this rather than read reading it so I could hear all the different languages pronounced correctly. I would have no doubt mangled it in reading and lost out on a key component of what makes the book so cool.
I can only endorse the positive comments below - this is a great read. It deals with a complex topic in a way that anyone can understand, and it is interesting from start to finish. I don't know how many languages McWhorter speaks fluently but it sounds as though he knows quite a few. He reels off words and phrases in foreign languages with apparent ease. He is probably the only narrator who could do justice to this book. His informal approach and conversational tone are perfect for engaging the listener and they contribute towards rendering this specialist topic accessible to all.