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Publisher's Summary

With dazzling wit and astonishing insight, Bill Bryson - the acclaimed author of The Lost Continent - brilliantly explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience, and sheer fun of the English language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can't) to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world's largest growth industries.

©1990 Bill Bryson (P)2015 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

More satire than history

Once I realized that the book is typical Bryson humor, I settled down to enjoy it. I had expected this to be a cheerful form of the History of the English Language, the sort of book like the Great Courses audiobooks by the Wheaton college professor, or one of the more academic books offered on audible, which are strictly accurate and still interesting. Bryson's book is more fun than accurate. Once I settled down and stopped trying to reconcile the things in this book presented as facts in with information in the more academic books I began to enjoy Bryson's book.

Its good to know this book is for humor, not so much for information.

39 of 40 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

I did not realize this was written in 1990

Audible states that the release date is 2015, but the book was released in 1990. As such it seems out of date, leaving out all the internet and tech slang that has been integrated into our dictionaries.
I think the narrator does a great job of enunciating accents and word differences as mentioned by the author, but you can tell there are spots of Bryson humor or timing that the narrator does not pick up. I would rather have listened to the author narrate, even if his pronunciation was not as good.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Lee
  • London, UK
  • 01-19-16

Audio version much better than written version

This was an exceptionally detailed and fascinating history of the English language. Since much of the subject was about pronunciation it was quite helpful to listen to it rather than read it. The narrator did an incredible job pronouncing words that are either foreign or have not been spoken for centuries. He actually sounded like Bryson!

I noted that it was actually written in 1990 and with the development of the internet I wondered if Mr. Byrson would give us an updated version. So much has changed in the past 25 years.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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entertaining but

The narrator is OK. Rather monotone, but OK.
This title was OK until about Chapter 5 when variant pronunciations were SPELLED out. List after list.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

There should be a rule...

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

If you are a Bill Bryson fan, I just cannot recommend this book.

How could the performance have been better?

There should be a rule that Bill Bryson MUST narrate his own books.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • J.B.
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL, United States
  • 12-16-15

Language is More Fashion than Science

The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson. The book may be summed up by one of Mr. Bryson’s statements in the book, “[l]anguage is more fashion than science.” That is the bottom line, or the more ethereal learning from the book. Don’t get me wrong; this book is scientifically written meaning it takes data accumulates it and proposes a point concerning language and its maturation over the centuries. It then compares its findings to the observable and proves its conjectures as apparent from the observable. Now, if that all sounds dull, well it could be but for the fact this is written by Bill Bryson. Thus, what would have been leaden, is in fact, a most titillating and intriguing journey through etymology. A great read or if you prefer a stupendous listen to.

What is actually in the context of this novel? The history of English linguistic form studied by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence (about 700 A.D.) and then tracing its transmission, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages and reaching thoughtful conclusions about just why we talk in the manner which we do. Mr. Bryson makes this not only a learning experience but lots of fun!

The peculiarities of language are very very interesting. If you have an awareness or even a curiosity of words (for example do you like to read Shakespeare?) this book is for you.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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I'm no book critic...

I found the book to be, as most Bill Bryson books are, both interesting and entertaining. The narrator does a good job of capturing the voice of the author. Though dated now, the book is still very educational and fun to listen to.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Vorthe
  • Audubon, NJ, United States
  • 10-11-16

I am a huge fan of this book.

Any additional comments?

With all the subtle pronunciations of different words evolving over time, it is much clearer to look at the words on a printed page of a physical book, as opposed to listening for such distinctions in an audio format (and I have both, so I know). That being said, all the anecdotes as well as the author's scholarship and his skill in description are still highly amusing, and informative, so I will recommend this book for anyone looking to learn about the English language, especially American English.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • R
  • 01-28-16

Frustrating as an audiobook

In an audio book format , it is annoying to listen to all of the spelling out of words.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Bryson adroitly educates and entertains

Highly entertaining tour through the history of the English language and its current (at least as of the 1990s) status. Bryson is almost always diverting while he educates, and this book does just that. Fun tidbits, little-used words that should be better-known, historical watersheds, and how English words have migrated into other languages all combine for a truly fun read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful