Monday, April 13, 2009

The Mother Tongue

I liked this book written by Bill Bryson. The author covers the entire history of human language, from the crude murmurings of Neanderthal man and the more complex communication of Cro-Magnon man, our ancestors from 30,000 years ago, until the explosion of English as basically a global language within the past century. The book explores why some words are spelled and pronounced in unexpected ways.

Noah Webster sometimes stooped to plagiarism and Samuel Johnson was often wildly careless and inaccurate when defining words. Some of the most cherished rules of grammar can be traced to an 18th century clergyman named Robert Lowth. One of the greatest contributors to the history of English was a doctor confined to a lunatic asylum for murder named William C. Minor.

The book has a lot of interesting facts crammed in and even includes a little about other languages. Probably the most fascinating section was about how certain rules on grammar and spelling are ambiguous. Some reviewers have said it was a very funny book. I think most of the subtle and dry humor was beyond my comprehension, because I only found a few lines to be amusing. The book was written about 20 years ago, so most of the sources are from the 1980s and it would be nice to see an updated version, with more recent facts and newer anecdotes.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home