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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson

I was so thrilled with this book - at least I was at first...

I borrowed The Mother Tongue from my mom - I picked it up off of the shelf and after reading the first 3 or 4 pages I knew that I had to finish it. So, I borrowed the book and was happy with it and its light and humorous telling of the long and occasionally tortured history of the English language.

Bill Bryson. Photo by Wes Washington.

the mistakes and problems started to pile up. Bryson illustrates a lot of his points by showing the reader how other languages had similar developments. Most often he uses French and German, which is appropriate considering their close ties to English. On occasion, though, he uses Spanish, which is something that I am sensitive to since I teach Spanish. Mr. Bryson's assertions about Spanish accents and pronunciation were wrong more often than right. Too bad Mr. Bryson did not have a Spanish speaker actually pronounce a few of the words for him so he could see that his points were flawed from their inception. It called into question the rest of his pronouncements.

To make it worse, this normally breezy, fun book gets seriously bogged down about halfway through - but it does pick up rather nicely - only to get mired down again at the very end with a seemingly endless discussion of palindromes and crossword puzzles.

I do recommend the book - with reservations. There are lots of wonderful things to be read in it - just bring along your grain of salt, and occasionally your ability to skim!

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way.

Reviewed June 26, 2005.

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