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 enjoyed the material and the narration. The first chapter seemed to cover, over and over, the author's position on the impact of the Celtic languages on modern English. Ad nauseum. Once I got through the last half of the first chapter, I enjoyed it.
A look at linguistic "archeology" and what it can unearth about the origins of our civilizations. If nothing else, I came away impressed at how little we know of the deep roots of human cultures and societies. A fascinating journey.
this does not draw the listener in as one would expect. seems you must have basic historical linguistic understanding to keep it interesting. thankfully it wasn't too long. also helps to have a good understanding of world/European history. appreciate the effort and I did pick up some interesting information.
This guy is so full of himself. Story was so-so and brought up a few good points, but the author spent the time to talk down to his American audience (which I assume because he just said "Civil War" instead of clarifying which civil war). Did not care for it, although if you're going to read this book I recommend listening to it to understand pronunciations.
The whole story is interesting, but if you don't know the real mechanics of languages, you might not get much out of this
Animated. Informed. Enthusiastic.
I'm cursing myself for not paying better attention in English, and all the other languages I took in school. While I know I've heard these terms before (such as "Daitive"), I can't remember exactly what these terms mean. Alas, much of this book was sort of lost on me, and it's all my own fault.
The three words that best describe his performance are:
*(I don't know where the blame goes for this, whether on the recording director or the author himself. The speech pattern he repeatedly returns to involves a falling off into vocal fry toward the ends of his sentences. My ears had to adjust such that they weren't put off by this sound. It's really the only flaw in an otherwise very worthwhile and enjoyable listen. To be able to make an audiobook involving grammar seem lively is a herculean task.)
The deductive approach the author takes to explain the likely sources of modification in our language is satisfyingly rational. While not specifically stated in the text, if one applies Ockham's Razor to the choices presented (such as around our usage of "do"), the point of view presented here makes the most sense.
I'm not sure how engaged I would have been in the written version of this book, but I LOVED the audio version. The author is an awesome narrator and hearing all the pronunciations was great. I very much enjoyed it.
Aside from what seemed to be some minor glitches in the recording, this book is a delightfully edifying exploration of how English has become a unique language among the Indo-European languages. Why did we shed cases? Where does the "do" question construction come from? Or the present "-ing" verb tense come from, among many other interesting features of a language influenced by many waves of immigration, invasion, and cultural mingling.
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