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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English | [John McWhorter]

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English

A survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar. Why do we say "I am reading a catalog" instead of "I read a catalog"? Why do we say "do" at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history.
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

A survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar. Why do we say "I am reading a catalog" instead of "I read a catalog"? Why do we say "do" at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history.

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.

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (1254 )
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3.9 (971 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Chuck 05-04-14
    Chuck 05-04-14 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    7
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    "Unbelievable reader (author)"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    A great deal as Deal of the Day. Very detailed


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue?

    Unbelievable linguist .


    Have you listened to any of John McWhorter’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    X


    Any additional comments?

    Do not feel bad now about using a dangling preposition

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Astrid Rusquellas 05-01-14 Member Since 2013
    ratings
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    1
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    "Great book. Original linguistic contributions."
    Would you consider the audio edition of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue to be better than the print version?

    Yes. this is the best book on the subject of the history of English since "Structural history of the English Language".


    What did you like best about this story?

    This is a book on linguistics.


    Which character – as performed by John McWhorter – was your favorite?

    This is an irrelevant question. This not a fiction book.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    N/A


    Any additional comments?

    Ask questions relevant to the book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kim Pickens 04-29-14
    Kim Pickens 04-29-14 Member Since 2013

    I am an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am an avid reader and love horror, romance, and literary fiction the best.

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    "For language geeks only!"

    I am very interested in linguistics but this book did not interest me as much as I had hoped. The book was fairly interesting about how English transformed over the years. But it also felt like the author had problems with other linguistic academics. I appreciate that professors need to put forward new ideas but sometimes this book felt like it diminished other writers.

    On the other hand, I am completely in awe of McWhorter’s talent for pronunciation which is a skill that I sorely lack.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Danielle Cox 04-29-14 Member Since 2012
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    9
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    "Interesting but repetitive"
    If you could sum up Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue in three words, what would they be?

    Repetitive, interesting, long


    What did you like best about this story?

    The story was interesting as to how English became the language it is today. The story is persuasive for me as a lay person. I really enjoyed the argument against language rules.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Heather Niceville, FL, United States 04-25-14
    Heather Niceville, FL, United States 04-25-14 Member Since 2010

    Mother, Wife, Cultural Anthropologist, always a scholar and lover of books!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Informed, humorous, enjoyable"

    I wish this author had been my professor as this writing is linguistic anthropology at its finest.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carrie Dallas, TX, United States 03-21-14
    Carrie Dallas, TX, United States 03-21-14 Member Since 2009

    I like happy endings and realism that is realistic rather than gritty.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Sixth Sense of histories of the English lang."

    Perhaps my title is hyperbole--maybe Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is just the Usual Suspects of HEL texts....

    I am endlessly fascinated with the history of our language, even though I've heard it scores of times (including in college and grad school courses). If it's a history of English, I will buy it, read it, check it out, listen to it, watch it, etc. McWhorter's text is easily in my top 5 HEL's of all time. His theory on the origins and uses of "do" are, to me, as exciting as the first time you get the twist in The Sixth Sense, and then the second time you watch the movie and see all the foreshadowing... McWhorter's ideas work that way for me. He presents his ideas in an excellent, engaging fashion, and now I can look back and see those ideas playing out in our beloved English.

    The book is well-written, engaging, and accessible. I love it!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David LOS ANGELES, CA, United States 10-23-13
    David LOS ANGELES, CA, United States 10-23-13
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    "one of the best"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue to be better than the print version?

    yes


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    the Vikings


    What does John McWhorter bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    enthusiasm


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    yes. The Celtics giving up the "do."


    Any additional comments?

    Well done, avoids accepting the mainstream views and is well thought out. Makes one remember that scholars views are not always supported by facts.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joseph Huntsville, AL, United States 09-12-13
    Joseph Huntsville, AL, United States 09-12-13 Member Since 2012
    ratings
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    40
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    "Origin story for the English Language"
    What did you love best about Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue?

    Great information, well researched and easy to follow.


    What did you like best about this story?

    His examples to support his points are clear and easy to understand, especially in audiobook format.


    Which character – as performed by John McWhorter – was your favorite?

    I always like it when an author is willing to perform his own book. In this case, with all of the different language examples, it really helped to have it pronounced by someone who understands the point the author (himself) was trying to make.


    Any additional comments?

    You do not need to be a linguist to enjoy this book, but some general knowledge about language, geography and European culture will help.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert 07-10-13
    Robert 07-10-13
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    "Very interesting"
    What did you love best about Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue?

    I usually avoid books read by the author. Prof McWhorter performs as if he's speaking to you directly. Very engaging and really interesting information.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eric 05-23-13
    Eric 05-23-13
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    "Couldn't finish it"
    What would have made Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue better?

    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?


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Certainly nothing by John McWhorter


    How could the performance have been better?

    John's reading and writing style are both off-putting


    What character would you cut from Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue?

    This story doesn't really have characters... but I'd cut John's ego.


    Any additional comments?

    The author/ narrator sounds less like a scholar and more like a cage fighter talking smack before a fight.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 51-60 of 86 results PREVIOUS15679NEXT
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  • Jareth
    Bridport, United Kingdom
    4/13/13
    Overall
    "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

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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