Synopses & Reviews
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 Language 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 ad, 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, its not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition).
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
John McWhorter is the author of the bestseller Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, and four other books. He is associate professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a contributing editor to The City Journal and The New Republic. He has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and has appeared on Dateline NBC, Politically Incorrect, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.