Reading about the English language for fun?


Its end of the semester time so I’m back to reading fun things instead of grading papers. Actually, I already finished my grading–I’m just avoiding other important work like prepping for next semester and administrative tasks. On my nightstand is this book by Bill Bryson: The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way (HarperCollins). Believe it or not, this book is interesting. Maybe I’m only interested because I have two children trying to learn spelling and pronunciation, but Bryson gives ample evidence of the insanity of the English language (e.g., how bough and though and tough are pronounced so differently; why we use teller as in bank teller; how words like brave now mean something opposite of what it used to, etc). He also helps explain how the English language developed and its connections to other languages. This may be his most interesting point: that it is clear that most European languages have the same parent as seemingly strange languages such as Sanscrit. Though he does not defend this point, it seems that linguistic study supports the idea of all languages coming from the same parent.

One interesting chapter details how English words get formed (adopted from another language as English is noted for, made up, adapted from other words, mistakenly written and carried on, etc.). He tells the reader that Shakespeare gave us 1500 plus new words–that 1:10 words he used in his writings were created new by him (or first appeared in his writings). That got me thinking of my 7 year old. He is nuts about football. Each week, he asks me who the Eagles are “versing.” Maybe a new word on the way?

I’m hoping this book will help expand my vocabulary and even help my poor understanding of grammer. But, if it doesn’t, please treat me with ruth. (look it up in the dictionary) 

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Reading about the English language for fun?

  1. Ron

    Work through this poem aloud and let me know how you appreciate the regularity of “the mother tongue”. 🙂
    http://pages.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/~hill/papers/conc/thechaos.htm

  2. Kim and I tried to get through it about 7/8s of the way through I gave up. Great link that makes the point so well. Thanks.

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