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)
The text is interesting if you have any interest in languages and it really comes alive as an audiobook. The author narrated it himself and he is downright amazing. The narration is casual and funny, feeling more like an easygoing conversation over dinner than the 'stodgy professor behind a lectern' approach you get from most audiobooks.
The book also often deals with differences in pronunciation between languages, so I imagine it's easier to follow as an audiobook than it would be if you were just reading it, since you can hear the author making the actual sounds.
This was a very fascinating essay about the history of English. I still like the analogy that English beat up other languages and stole bits of grammar and words and now I know that other languages beat up English. I'll have to listen to it again when I can concentrate more on it.
This is educational text, so if you're looking for a fun story this isn't it. I found it incredibly interesting and fun and actually makes me curious to find out about my ancestry DNA profile. It also helps to explain a lot of the complexities of both my native English language but also the many others I've struggled to learn. Understanding the context of the differences makes it even more interesting to learn a new language. I'm inspired by this book to learn more!
A different story
I like didactic books and enjoy learning odd facts but this book was a disappointment.
but it helps.. I cover a lot of books on all different topics, and found this on gave me at fundamental education not just on the origins of English, but most European languages.
more than expected
The section on the vikings was especially interesting to me and the overall implications of English being changed by non native speakers.
The book feels very much like a college lecture. The author is passionate an convincing about his topic. At first I was worried that he wouldn't be able to pull some of the larger assumptions together, but I was able to suspend parts of my disbelief until he could more fully explain later on. He seems to have a ridiculous amount of knowledge. His Japanese pronunciation and cadence needs some practice though :p
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.
Well written, well narrated and witty. Captivating and gripping from start to finish. This has changed the way I think about the English language and it will continue to do so in the future. Well done, John McWhorter!
"Brilliant and insightful"
This book was a great listen just as it was a great read the first time, it has thought me a lot about the English language as a whole and I would recommend it to anyone
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