There is something about the English language. Belonging to the Proto-Germanic language group, English has a structure that is oddly, weirdly different from other Germanic languages. In Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English, John McWhorter has achieved nothing less than a new understanding of the historic formation of the English language in McWhorter’s words “a revised conception of what English is and why”. The linguist and public intellectual McWhorter accomplished this scholarly feat outside the tight restrictor box of academic publications. He did it with a popular book and thoroughly convincing arguments framed in richly entertaining, informal colloquial language.
The audiobook production of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue takes McWhorter’s transformation of scholarship to a new level. The book is about the spoken word and how and why the English language’s structure that is the syntax, and which linguists term the “grammar” changed through time. McWhorter tells the story the way it should be told: in spoken English by a master of the subject of how the languages under study sounded. The author has a remarkable, animated narrative voice and his delivery has an engaging and captivating personal touch. He is a great teacher with a world-class set of pipes, who clearly has developed a special relationship with studio microphones.
McWhorter’s intent is “to fill in a chapter of The History of English that has not been presented to the lay public, partly because it is a chapter even scholars of English’s development have rarely engaged at length”. The changes of English under study are from spoken Old English before 787 C.E. and the Viking invasions and the Norman Conquest of 1066 to the Middle English of Chaucer’s time. (With Chaucer we are a hop, skip, and a jump away from the English we easily recognize today.) The influences that altered the language, in McWhorter’s new formulation, include how, beginning in 787 C.E., the Viking invaders “beat up the English language in the same way that we beat up foreign languages in class rooms”, and thus shed some of the English grammar, and the native British Celtic Welsh and Cornish “mixed their native grammars with English grammar”. After the Norman Invasion, French was the language of a relatively small ruling class and was thus the written language. But with the Hundreds Years’ War between England and France, English again became the ruling language, and the changes that had been created in spoken English found their way into written Middle English.
Listening to McWhorter articulate his points with his extraordinarily expressive, polemically powerful voice, and cutting through and continually upending the scrabble board of flabby etymological presumptions of the established view it is like nothing you’ve ever heard. The audio edition of this groundbreaking work, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue – an otherwise scholarly study twice transformed into a popular book and then into the audiobook that gives such impressive expressive voice to the changes of the English language is a milestone in audiobook production. David Chasey
Covering such turning points as the little-known Celtic and Welsh influences on English, the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it all during the fifth century A.D., John McWhorter narrates this colorful evolution with vigor.
Drawing on revolutionary genetic and linguistic research, as well as a cache of remarkable trivia about the origins of English words and syntax patterns, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English - and its ironic simplicity due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain. This is the book that language aficionados worldwide have been waiting for. (And no, it's not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition.)
©2008 John McWhorter; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"McWhorter's iconoclastic impulses and refreshing enthusiasm makes this worth a look for anyone with a love for the language." (Publishers Weekly)
"McWhorter’s energetic, brash delivery of his own spirited and iconoclastic text will appeal to everyone who appreciates the range and caliber of today’s audio production. In some ways, audio is superior to printed text in portraying tone, attitude, values, and in this case, a discussion whose theme is the sound and grammar of words." (AudioFile)
I learner new things about English and language in general.
Yes, if they are patient.
academic pedantic. Drone
The author got into a repetitive rut early on long after he made his main point.
Retired high school English teacher. I liked and worked with the at-risk student. Interested in about everything, but I love a good story.
When you listen to this book, you must first and foremost realize that it is truly history. Don't expect a charming story.
McWhorter provides what appears to be a well-researched history of the English language from its earliest roots and covers many of the languages that provided words and syntax for English. I disagreed with him in some places such as the influence of the French court upon every-day English, but that's a minor detail.
This is a truly unique history and presents valuable information. I may even purchase the hard-cover version so I can look at his reference sources
I found the text quite interesting, but the presentation was too defensive. In the first half of the book, the author goes to great lengths to convince us that the establishment is wrong, and he is correct. But I have no really heard what the standard position is, so it in unnecessary - he could simply have stated his case.
In the latter part of the book, the author attacks the "Whorfian" theory by using mocking tones and comments like "really??". This is in stark contrast to another book I have recently listened to, "Predictably Irrational" (much better IMHO), where they devise experiments to answer these types of questions. For example, where McWhorter asserts that English speakers are no less sensitive to gender despite the lack of distinctions in our grammar, the author of Predictable Irrational would have devised a cunning experiment to "prime" English speakers with various gender words and quantify the effect.
There are some interesting ideas here, but a more positive outlook would have suited me better.
This book was well written and expertly read. I felt at times it drug on and at times the author felt the need to reinforce his point over and over. I did learn about the history of English and i would say it was worth my time.
This book is much too technical for the average reader to get much out of. This stuck me as a thesis written to be read by experts. There were interesting parts but it lost me quickly!
Less of an arguing, mocking tone on the part of the author both in the writing and in his narration. Who does he think he is arguing with or showing-up, and why should anyone care?
Certainly nothing by John McWhorter
John's reading and writing style are both off-putting
This story doesn't really have characters... but I'd cut John's ego.
The author/ narrator sounds less like a scholar and more like a cage fighter talking smack before a fight.
I thought that this book would be somewhat more entertaining. Unfortunately, it became somewhat repetitive.
The performance was fine.
I am a geek and like to hear about these sorts of things, but I just wasn't taken on a language journey.
college algebra teacher
Anyone who likes language.
He wrote it and read it perfectly
Leave it as it is.
John McWhorter has freed me from strict adherence to Grammar Rules and had increased my desire to learn Celtic languages and Old English.
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