The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way

The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way

by Bill Bryson
3.9 23


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The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way by Bill Bryson

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380715435
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/28/2001
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 109,140
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Bill Bryson's bestselling books include One Summer, A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home, A Walk in the Woods, Neither Here nor There, Made in America, and The Mother Tongue. He lives in England with his wife.


Hanover, New Hampshire

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

Des Moines, Iowa


B.A., Drake University, 1977

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Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bryson describes the evolution of the English language and influences of other Indo-European based languages in a hilarious context of changing society and historical grammar. It's a fabulous book for anyone who knows anything about linguistics, and his cunning humor will resonate even with casual readers. The reader will also learn a lot about our crazy language. One of the best reads i've had in a while. His other books are great, too. If you like David Sedaris, you'll love Bill Bryson.
Whymsy More than 1 year ago
It’s not my fault and other wonderful things I learned from this book! This fascinating subject raises some very interesting concepts (like the fact my grammar and punctuation problems are not my fault, but the fault of inconsistencies in English, and I have to tell you I’m glad to hear it. Take that with a raspberry I blow in your general direction every teacher I ever had trying to make me conform to their ideas of correct grammar and punctuation.). The writing was well done and densely packed with information. I’m usually a fairly fast reader, but with the amount of information this book conveys I found myself moving at a much slower pace and I believe it may take a few readings to really grasp all of the ideas. Also be aware of the fatigue factor as your brain tries to absorb the information; this is not a book you can just breeze through. The Mother Tongue has been touted by many as witty-particularly those trying to sell it. While I did find it very intriguing and marginally amusing, Bryson’s anecdotes never crossed over to outright funny for me. It should be noted some controversy surrounds Bryson’s conclusions and examples. Several other reviewers claim The Mother Tongue is full of inaccuracies; I cannot either validate this opinion or dismiss it. I just don’t know enough about the subject to weigh in. I would, however, be very interested in seeing an updated version of this book to see what changes of opinion Bryson would make with more current information or the inaccuracies he saw fit to fix, if any. My advice would be to not take everything he says as the gospel truth (skepticism if used properly can be a friend). And as with any vaguely scholarly subject, if you are really interested, do your own research. Ask questions like, does his information match up with what you already know? Look at the validity of his source material, read more recent articles and books on the subject, and figure out whether you would come to the same conclusions as Bryson (remember critical thinking from your college days, yeah it can apply to real life) .
Corner_mouse More than 1 year ago
is a dusting off of a Bill Bryson seems determined to contend with Isaac Asimov in the variety of his published interests. His works are generally well researched, and written to both entertain and inform. The volume in hand is, however, basically a paperback dusting off and reissue of a hardcover work originally published in 1990, and shows its datedness in minor ways throughout. As he stresses repeatedly, English is a moving target for the scholar or casual user alike, and the passage of nearly two decades has brought changes that may mislead the unwary. Also, the author's efforts to mine popular entertainment from the subject at the expense of rigor of presentation frequently leaves the reader with the impression that he has waded through a long series of one-liners with no clear development or point. Nevertheless there is a great deal of solid information buried in the ongoing sideshow exhibition of the freaks of our language, and the anomalies are both fun and provoking of rueful grins. All in all it is a fun read, especially if taken in chapter sized chunks.
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Heidi_G More than 1 year ago
Interesting book but as other reviewers have noted, there are many points in which I question the research. That said, I did enjoy learning about the history of the English language and the many twists and turns language has taken over the centuries. The decline and disappearance of so many languages, including Manx, the language of my ancestors, is documented, reminding us of the fragility of the spoken and written word. Amusing and entertaining.
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AEC More than 1 year ago
This book is really for the more serious minded affectionado of the English language. I am glad it was not my first exposure to his work. Having said that, I find "Mother Tongue" to be up to his high standards. It is well organized, comprehensive and comprehensible. I am not a professional in the field at all--yet, find myself drawn into his presentation. Mr. Bryson is amazing and most readable.
diegoCA More than 1 year ago
i had to read this book for college and i would recomend it as general reading.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Concise, very detailed, seems to do his research well. Always written with a little humor, which is good. Good reading for students, as it may give them a sense of history for their language.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
To be brief, I found the book to be humorous, witty, full of information backed up with many interesting facts and a plethora of examples for each point. Bryson is accurate, and by reading The Mother Tongue, I learned a lot and enjoyed doing so.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an extremely well-written, humorous look at the different elements of the English language, and how they have evolved over history. Bryson makes his ideas clear and easily interpreted by the average reader. His humor and mocking rhetorical questions keep the mood light and care-free. The information presented in the text is filled with examples from history and the present use of the language. The one nagging problem is the overabundance of examples taking up paragraph after paragraph dunring the book. This grief is trivial, however, when compared to the amount of knowledge Bryson presents enjoyably to the reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a very entertaining history of the development of the English language. I studied English at university, and we also covered the development of English, Beowulf and all. Had I known this book then, I might have enjoyed it more! The development of language always also reflects the development of and changes in society, and I find this extremely interesting. In short, everyone who sees English (or any other language, actually) as a living, changing part of our lives simply has to read this book, to gain insights into the world of speech that are both entertaining and worth having read at least once.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Now on the page 29, found some inaccuracies, info doesn't match what I know. Writer was in rush, not well researched. Anyway will continue to read. Like this topic.