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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue Audiobook

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English

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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

3.9 (2496 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Marco Berry 02-19-17
    Marco Berry 02-19-17 Member Since 2017
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    "Wonderful Analysis of the language."

    McWhorter reads his work well. he makes his field SOOOOO interesting. He's also funny and charming without being haughty.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Isabel Z. 02-08-17
    Isabel Z. 02-08-17
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    "Old questions finally answered"

    I remember when learning Russian thinking why is this grammar so different? A satisfying answer.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James L. 12-25-16
    James L. 12-25-16 Member Since 2017
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    "Absolute genius!"
    Where does Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Fascinating insight into the workings of the English language. The most interesting part of this is the section on the influence of the Celtic languages. Really easy to listen to; the author is both witty and self-effacing. Pleasant voice to listen to. The section on the purported influence of the Phoenician languages was a bit of a stretch and of questionable relevance, but the rest was very insightful. High recommended.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David San Diego, CA, United States 12-21-16
    David San Diego, CA, United States 12-21-16 Member Since 2011
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    "The story of a Language"
    Any additional comments?

    The author did his research, and it shows. He investigates some of the unique features of English and helps those interested in the history of the language to understand its evolution.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MATTHIAS KLAER Fort Collins, Colorado United States 11-30-16
    MATTHIAS KLAER Fort Collins, Colorado United States 11-30-16 Member Since 2016
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    "A wonderful portrait of the English Language"

    A firework of quirky facts about the English language and a captivating saga how it became what it is today. What a treat it was to listen to the author narrate his own book where his numerous examples expressed amazingly in at least two dozen languages masterfully spread his passion to the listener. If you ever wondered where English's 'meaningless DO' and 'progressive ING' stem from or what impact Phoenician perhaps might have or could have had on Proto-Germanic languages, look no further. A wonderful portrait of the English language as a tower on Germanic foundations, remodeled by indigenous Celts, trimmed by settling Norsemen and Danes and expanded by conquering Normans. And the building project continues to this day!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Garcia Fairfax, VA, United States 11-30-16
    Garcia Fairfax, VA, United States 11-30-16 Member Since 2011
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    "Delightful Narration by Author"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alice Aviles 10-20-16 Member Since 2015
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    "I leaned stuff!"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Lauren S 10-16-16
    Lauren S 10-16-16
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    "I will listen to again"

    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!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan 10-16-16
    Susan 10-16-16 Member Since 2014
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    "Blurb sounds appealing but book was boring."
    What would have made Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue better?

    A different story


    Would you ever listen to anything by John McWhorter again?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    I like didactic books and enjoy learning odd facts but this book was a disappointment.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KJ 10-14-16
    KJ 10-14-16
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    "interesting"

    I would have gotten more out of it if I knew other languages. I enjoyed the historical aspect of it however.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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