…delightful…It is to all of our benefit that Murphy, an American who is married to a Briton and who teaches linguistics at the University of Sussex, understands the subject as both an academic and an expatriate…
The Prodigal Tongue addresses not just etymology and usage…but also how history, geography, sociology and psychology have conspired to create, essentially, two different approaches to pronunciation, grammar, diction and spelling…Many of us already know and admire Murphy from her sprightly Twitter feed and her excellent blog, "Separated by a Common Language," both of which reflect her exquisite ear, catholic interests and sly sense of humor. The Prodigal Tongue reminds us of the academic underpinnings of her work, the extensive reading she has done and her own highly entertaining preoccupations…Murphy's great love for language radiates from these pages…Her examples are often funny and always apt…[Her] book serves as an open-minded argument for tolerance and understanding.
The New York Times Book Review - Sarah Lyall
Murphy, an American linguistics professor, longtime U.K. resident, and creator of the Separated by a Common Language blog, continues her investigation of the unique relationship between British and American English in this thoughtful, funny, and approachable book. Murphy frames the divide in terms of illness: the British are pathologically afflicted by “Amerilexicosis” (obsessive vitriol toward Americanisms in British English), while Americans neurotically suffer from “AVIC” (American verbal inferiority complex). Murphy uses the drama of these opposing anxieties to draw attention to grammatical minutiae and spelling differences and to explain esoteric linguistic concepts such as prototypes in terms of how bacon doesn’t refer to the same thing in the U.S. and the U.K. because “the set of properties that makes something supremely bacon-y” is different in each place. She also shares surprising factual tidbits—Oxford University Press’s British and American dictionary databases only overlap in 78% of their definitions—and revealing cultural divergences—saying ate as et is considered standard pronunciation in the U.K. but is often thought of as a trait of backwoods accents in the U.S. The book’s momentum comes from Murphy’s witty presentation, but its real power comes from its commitment to inquiry and its profound belief that “communication involves a million little acts of faith.” Agent: Daniel Conway, DHH Literary Agency. (Apr.)
"The book’s chief pleasure is a simple one: Instead of sending the language to school, it savors a great many words and phrases that are staples on one side of the pond and unfamiliar on the other...her essential argument is that the plurality of English, a result of the riotous drama of history, is something to extol."
— Wall Street Journal “ The Prodigal Tongue [is] a delightful and useful book, going beyond the mere variations in the two dialects to explain historical development of the language, the linguistic underpinnings, and the social dimension, all explained conversationally… Rather than fret over England’s imagined superiority and America’s imagined inferiority, or repine over divergent developments in English over the past couple of centuries, Lynne Murphy would have us understand how rich and sturdy English is, that we may come to understand and delight in the richness of our differences. Buy the book.” —"Thoughtful, funny, and approachable... The book’s momentum comes from Murphy’s witty presentation, but its real power comes from its commitment to inquiry and its profound belief that 'communication involves a million little acts of faith.'" The Baltimore Sun —"[Lynne Murphy] has a delightfully sardonic style... A passionate defense (or is it defence?) of the 'fantastically flexible medium' that is English." Publishers Weekly "[Murphy’s] delivery is sparkling, her approach mischievous, her material brightened by the unexpected…a potpourri of enchanting, counterintuitive surprises… — Kirkus Reviews The Prodigal Tongue is playful, funny, smart and often humbling… before the apocalypse, you could do worse than read Lynne Murphy’s delightful book." —T imes Literary Supplement "How did we get our knickers in such a twist? The British sneer at 'creeping Americanisms' that are neither creeping nor American. Meanwhile, their cousins in the US have an inferiority complex about their English and lust after those plummy British accents. Enter Lynne Murphy, a linguist who has a foot in each culture and a unique understanding of the Great Divide. The Prodigal Tongue is great fun—impeccably researched and outright funny at the same time (it should be required reading for Prince Charles, the quintessential sneerer). Murphy is one smart cookie, or should I say biscuit?” — Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe Is I and, with Stewart Kellerman, Origins of the Specious“The war of words waged between Americans and Brits has been filled with dour pedantry on both sides—which is what makes Murphy's book such a welcome and refreshing revelation. Murphy playfully and expertly pokes at the linguistic chauvinism displayed on both sides of the Atlantic, slyly overturning false assumptions and explaining the linguistic ins and outs of each other's speech with candor and humor. She pulls back the curtain not just on our language, but our shared quirks, loves, and frustrations, and in the process, extols our linguistic differences as part of the rich history of English and the nations that speak it. With wit and expertise, The Prodigal Tongue calls all English speakers home to a language big enough for both fries and chips, bumbershoots and brollies.” — Kory Stamper, author of Word by Word"Forget the usual bumbershoots and lifts and lorries—Lynne Murphy's book on the difference between English in America and English in England is full of much more interesting things. Did you know that increasing numbers of Brits are saying 'haitch' instead of 'aitch' for the name of the letter H? Or that Americans are using the subjunctive ever MORE lately? Or that James Corden was advised when he started hosting the Late, Late Show that Americans find WILLY and SHAG cute but not HALF-CUT and KNACKERED? You'll be chuffed as nuts on every page." — John McWhorter, author of Words on the Move and Talking Back, Talking Black "No one knows how to navigate the transatlantic language divide better than Lynne Murphy. Moving beyond facile stereotypes about British and American English, she delves into subtle linguistic nuances with wit and aplomb. The Prodigal Tongue is a wonderful reading experience for anyone interested in understanding the true nature of these two distinct 'nationlects.'" — Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal
What is it about Americans' way with words that makes Brits so angry? An American linguistics professor attempts to find out.Murphy (Linguistics/Univ. of Sussex), who lives in Britain and writes the blog Separated by a Common Language, hears frequent complaints "about the wrecking ball that is American English." In this book, she tries to understand how it became "Linguistic Public Enemy Number 1" and explains the phenomenon she calls amerilexicosis, "a pathologically unhinged reaction to American English." As the author notes, many American phrases that proponents of British English detest come from Britain. The earliest uses of "might of," considered an American monstrosity, "have been found in letters sent in England in the 1770s." Murphy covers all the greatest linguistic hits—e.g., the -or/-our divide in words like "color"—but she tends to generalize: not every American or Brit speaks as she describes. Some of her examples, even in the service of legitimate points, leave room for debate. The author defends the supposedly American practice of turning nouns into verbs by writing, "people are tasked with doing things because that's shorter than giving someone the task of doing something." One might respectfully argue that "he asked me to clean my room" is shorter and better than "I've been tasked with cleaning my room." But perhaps that speaks to Murphy's thesis: English is full of inconsistencies and pitfalls, and no single set of standards is necessarily superior. This is an entertaining work that defends English's so-called Americanization, and the author has a delightfully sardonic style, as when she tells Brits, "Americans call your football soccer because you taught them to….Soccer came from the full name of the game, association football. The word comes from England. You should be proud of it. There, that feels better."A passionate defense (or is it defence?) of the "fantastically flexible medium" that is English.
In this delightful and highly readable and informative book, American-born, UK-based linguist Murphy (linguistics, Univ. of Sussex) outlines the tug and pull, jealousies, and rivalries of the English language on both sides of the pond. Is American English corrupting the "King's English" or is America "saving" the language and enhancing it? Murphy's analysis of how "fall" came into American usage as an alternative to the French "autumn" is one of many detailed examples of the symbiotic relationship between American and British English. Filled with wit and amusing asides, this well-researched, well-documented text often shows that American English is actually preserving its British cousins' linguistic origins. The difference between the "Queen's English," "Proper" English, and "Received" English is contrasted to "Standard American English." Murphy's analyses are well argued and often very amusing; her investigation of British vs. American pronunciations are particularly insightful. VERDICT Highly recommended both to students of linguistics and general readers interested in language and culture.—Herbert E. Shapiro, Lifelong Learning Soc., Florida Atlantic Univ., Boca Raton