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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English » User review

Why English grammar is bad and why you shouldn't care

  • Feb 7, 2011
Middle school English teachers, close your ears:  McWhorter is about to tell us in this small volume why English grammar is messed up and why it isn't such a big deal.  McWhorter, a professional linguist, is not an anything-goes libertine; see, for example, my review of his book Doing our own thing:  The degradation of language and music and why we should, like, care.

So this little book is about how English's distant and murky past has resulted in grammatical changes--from its original Germanic roots and relatives, the conquered Celts, and then the conquering Vikings.  While many linguists and laymen focus on vocabulary adoptions from these historical incursions, McWhorter makes the case that the grammatical changes are more important for us today.  They simplified the language and put it on a course of continual change--neither for the better or worse, and this is where the grammatical curmudgeons have a fit.  McWhorter argues that change is inevitable, and not an apocalyptic decline of modern day grammatical manners and meaning.  

The story is mildly, but not wildly, interesting.  It can easily be read through in a couple of hours and provides a bit of enjoyment along the way.

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February 10, 2011
Excellent review! I'll probably avoid this one as I'm not that interested in the perspective.
February 08, 2011
It's weird, but I have a thing for English grammar and punctuation, so something tells me I'll find this book interesting :) I'll check out your review of his other book, too!
More Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue... reviews
review by . June 08, 2013
   For my next non-fiction project, I'm been rummaging around in  paleolinguistics and paleohistory: I'll tell you just why in a future post.  Suffice to say that my most recent reading has led me back to the delightful Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter.      His unstated thesis is that English is a Creole language, with nothing pejorative intended in the phrase. What happened to English is that it was …
review by . September 02, 2010
Pros: Brief, presents new ideas in a relaxed but scholarly way      Cons: Can be snide at times      The Bottom Line: This book is excellent for those interested in how languages (English here) work and should spark a greater interest.      For dry and arcane subjects (physics, quantum mechanics, sociology, economics, linguistics in this case) the only way a curious layman would consider reading a book on the subject is if it is engaging, …
review by . April 18, 2009
Creoles: not only in the tropics do they permeate English. Since Celtic times, and perhaps Proto-Germanic via the Phoenicians, our native language's warped like any other. "While the Vikings were mangling English, Welsh and Cornish people were seasoning it." (xxii) An authority on creolization, McWhorter brings to this little study lots of learning. As with "The Power of Babel" (also reviewed by me), he packs an irrepressible irreverence into a scholarly package. His gifts as a former professor …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #38
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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This evolutionary history of the English language from author and editor McWhorter (The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language) isn't an easy read, but those fascinated by words and grammar will find it informative, provocative and even invigorating. McWhorter's history takes on some old mysteries and widely-believed theories, mounting a solid argument for the Celtic influence on English language that literary research has for years dismissed; he also patiently explains such drastic changes as the shift from Old English to Middle English (the differences between written and spoken language explain a lot). Those who have learned English as a second language will recognize McWhorter's assertion that "English really is easy(-ish) at first and hard later"; for that, he says, we can "blame... the Danish and Scandinavian" influence. McWhorter further proves his bona fides with deft analogies, like a comparison between the evolution of English and popping a wheelie on a bicycle; he also debunks, handily, the popular notion that "a language's grammar and the way its words pattern reflect aspects of its speakers' culture and the way they think." McWhorter's iconoclastic impulses and refreshing enthusiasm makes this worth a look for anyone with a love for the language.
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ISBN-10: 1592403956
ISBN-13: 978-1592403950
Author: John McWhorter
Genre: Reference
Publisher: Gotham
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