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.
While the subject matter was interesting, I really bought this book, on a chance, based upon the audio sample. In the end, the book was extremely interesting and Mr. McWhorter was fantastic as a narrator. I hope Mr. McWhorter narrates another book, other than his fantastic lecture, soon! I would recommend this book or purchase it again.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
McWhorter's short book is obviously aimed at the public at large and in the audio version at least, he is a narrator who is engaging and fun and obviously doesn't take himself too seriously, which kept me going even the more arduous bits (I've always had a hard time with grammar). He uncovers some links in the English language which are surprisingly overlooked by most linguists, among others, the connection between the spoken languages of the Celts as well as the Welsh and Cornish who had populated Britain before the invasion of the Germanic tribes, pointing out that not only words, but grammar itself was influenced by these origins. Why historians have ignored these particular linguistic connections is anyone's guess, and he advances some theories which are interesting.
A noteworthy reminder for the modern reader is the fact that language was transmitted purely orally and on the fly, with no formal schooling in existence and was almost never put in writing, with the bulk of the population being illiterate, besides which written and oral versions of languages were often vastly different (for example, Latin exclusively in many Mediterranean countries for written matter, and Arabic, even to this day different in daily speech and printed matter).
He also goes over quite a bit of ground in this section about the use of "unnecessary do" in the modern English language, as in "do you think this is a good idea?" It took me a while to understand this concept, because we use (unecessary) 'do' so much in our regular speech that we don't even think about it, but it seems no other Germanic languages use it this way.
The end section was of particular interest to me, because having studied in grade school in Israel, I learned how Hebrew was a semitic language which at one point evolved from Phoenician, and here McWhorter makes the argument that even the proto-Germanic language, from which modern languages such as English, German and Dutch evolved, through the sea travels of peoples such as the Phoenicians, probably had similar influences as well.
An overview more than anything, but fascinating in parts.
I don't know if I would or not -- I would for sure make certain I listened to the preview. this book could have been good and interesting -- and you could tell that the narrator/author found it interesting because he just sounded like he had a strong passion for the subject. me..? not so much...
some of the gibberish in foreign languages that offer no value to the listener - I kept thinking this stuff is all going to tie in together and it never did.
Only if they enjoy etymology. If so, yes I would recommend this book. I did enjoy it.
The origins of language. Also the narrator presented the information in a pleasant manner.
Do not recall.
A good book if you are interested in etymology, not to be confused with entomology.
How we arrived an our current language is an amazing story reflected in this book. I highly recommend this book to any and all who want to know about the evolution of our language.
Another book where a smart person tells how everyone else is wrong..... better to listen on double speed to get it over quickly. At least the topic was interesting.
one word: Interesting!
John McWhorter makes what could be a dull subject a fascinating listen. One of his central ideas must be controversial in the linguistics circles (the Celts influenced old English), but the way he takes pleasure in defending it with vigor (as well as the humor and liveliness of other topics) makes this one of the most enjoyable non-fiction books I've experienced.
The author has a great way of finding humor and energy in what could easily be a very dry subject.