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)
50 something, retired professional, mother, grandmother, wife.
thought this might have some detail on the ordain it evolution of individual words but it us more a case for macro influences. interesting but not gripping. the author did a very good job of reading. I don't think I could have gotten through the written version of this book and I did listen to the whole book.
I am am accountant, I don't care about English, but saw John on tv and was going to see his lecture at a conference, so downloaded this book. What am awesome book, really enjoyed it, and his lecture. I liked the book so much i just logged in to download another one of his books.
Where I grew up many community's were still somewhat isolated and the English speech GRAMER was different. I learned why. I, at times would say things out of order, strange to those I was speaking to. The heavy German, Norwegian and Scandinavian influence gave me an accent that still surfaces to day after over 60 years. My grandmother, born in the USA grow up on a farm were the old language mixed with English was spoken, was the heaviest influence. Why not my mother? I have no explanation.
When I need an escape and cannot openly read a book, I whip out my headphones and press play on my Audible app.
Yes! The way in which the author speaks and writes is compelling and easily understood. It isn't full of fancy words and phrases, it's written for a layperson. It's also full of anecdotes and metaphors that help to explain how the author arrived at his conclusion and why it's important in English's history.
The Meaningless Do chapter was fantastic and makes you think
Content is ok but dry spells at times. much more for folks with linguist leanings rather than the casual curious mind, although there were still several take away points worth learning. narrator is the author, and while he has enthusiasm & delivers the nuances as intended. he sounds a bit long winded at moments.
I have listened to many of Mr. McWhorter's lectures on The Great Courses series. I have also read many of his books.
This combines both of those pleasure.
Mr. McWhorter is well-informed and speaks well. I enjoy learning about (in this case) the history of the English language, as well as his personal understanding of it. His manner is engaging and his knowledge is wide-ranging.
...to really "like" this book... Some of the points are really arcane but you appreciate the zeal of the author in making those points.
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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