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)
...to really "like" this book... Some of the points are really arcane but you appreciate the zeal of the author in making those points.
This book is a volley in an academic argument to which most of us listeners are not a party. However it's no less interesting for that. the author convincingly describes a number of common misconceptions about the English language and gives the antidote. It's a fascinating journey through the mechanic that is the grammar of our language. And it's an excellent counterexample to all those audiobooks where the listener cringes to hear a book read by the author. Indeed it's hard to imagine who else could have possibly read this book . And in addition to getting the myriad foreign pronunciations correct the author allows himself the freedom to chuckle and add in a few quips throughout the book In a way which I found charming.
I don't want to read the bestsellers. I want to read the best written.
With little in my background for formal study in linguistics, this book was an enjoyable challenge for me. There were times when I thought I would have understood the discussion better if I had the text in hand but the author brought a lot of humor and animation to the subject.
While a bit Academica times and soamewhat hard to follow from time to time as an audiobook this was a very interesting and compelling set of theories and evidence for the evolution of the English language. I highly recommend it if you have any interest of what English really came Fromm
Engaging. Historical. Satisfying.
I bought this book for my Mother (a retired english teacher) because I thought she might enjoy it. I didn't intend to read it, but turned it on at the start of a long road trip and found myself thoroughly captivated. I'm not a linguist, but I do like history and explanations of how things evolve. Mr. McWhorter does a great job of explaining the evolution of grammar in a way that is both interesting and satisfying. I wish that I had read this book before trying to learn a second language. I'm going to try another of his books now.
The book describes the "untold" side of the evolution of English, which fascinates me as someone who grew up in the Caribbean (surrounded by a mix of Caribbean Standard English, dialect, American English and British English) and has lived on the West Coast of the USA and in Europe.
It focuses on grammar, and makes some provocative links and conclusions. The author is also the reader, which allows him to show his enthusiasm and passion for the material and convey his meaning in a way that I think would have been hard even anyone else to deliver. Listening to the pronunciation of the many foreign words and phrases provided a much more authentic experience than I would have had if I had opted for the print edition.
At times I found he was a bit repetitive in his presentation of the arguments against some more-accepted or conventional theories. I had already bought into his hypothesis, and didn't need more convincing, but in a couple cases, the discussion continued well after I was "sold".
Putting that aside, I enjoyed the book a great deal and learned a lot from it. I would recommend it for anyone interested in knowing more about where some of the unique features of English come from. (Hey, isn't that a preposition at the end of that sentence?) It also makes me question what the future might bring, with so many people learning English as a second language: does this have greater similarity to the Celts learning English and "stewing" elements into it, or to the Vikings agressive simplification of it? Or will it give rise to a different effect altogether?
New, Different approach
The English language
This book had to be read by the author. An excellent job.
If I had the time
I read along with the Kindle book which helped on many of the foreign words.
There were parts that were really interesting, but I struggled to follow throughout. The author also uses a lot of analogies that are difficult to keep up with at times. Worth it overall, but be ready to trail off occasionally of you're not already sharp on linguistic history.
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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