Book, Book Blog, Book Blogger, Book Review, John McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English, review
Did you ever notice that when you learn a foreign language, one of the first things you have to unlearn as an English speaker is the way we use do in questions and in negative statements? Take Did you ever notice . . . ? for example. Or I did not notice. We’re used to this do business, of course. But it’s kind of strange if you think about it. In this usage, do has no meaning whatsoever. It’s just there, but you have to use it. One cannot, speaking English, walk around saying things like Noticed you ever? or I not notice. English has something we will call meaningless do.Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue – John McWhorter
Initial Thoughts: Although I studied English in university, there is a lot I do not know in terms of the evolution of the English language. I know virtually nothing of linguistics. Instead, I majored in literature. I learned how to apply the rules of language without really knowing the creation or evolution of these rules. While it is not at all necessary to be an expert in linguistics to utilize English, it can be helpful to learn several principles. For instance, the above quote explains that native English speakers have to “unlearn” to use “do,” something that I have never took notice of before, but it makes full sense when I think of French or German. This book was very helpful to making me aware of the quirks of the English language.
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, it’s not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition).
English is a strange language, even stranger than a native speaker may realize.
John McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue examines a few features of the English language and traces its origins from the Welsh influence, to the Norman Conquest to the Celtic influence. For instance, did you know that the way that we use the word “do” in questions or in negation is essentially useless? The phrase “noticed you ever?” is considered meaningless until you change it to be “Did you ever notice?” If you analyse this sentence, you’ll realize that the “Did” does not actually do any work to enhance meaning. However, we are so use to seeing “do” pop up everywhere that it becomes highly unnatural to phrase things any other way.Continue reading