One of the last books I read in 2016 was The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson. I’ve written about Bryson on the blog before–I reviewed his One Summer and his two books on British travel, as well as mentioning his hilarious book A Walk in the Woods this past summer.
Well, I’m back with another of his books to share, and this one was right up my alley as an English teacher. To give you a little backstory, when I was in college at Auburn, the English department offered a course entitled “History of the English Language.” To most people that sounds incredibly boring, but by the time I graduated, I was sincerely disappointed that they never offered the course while I was there. I’d been hoping to learn more about English. Well, maybe you’ve never ever wanted to take a linguistics course. If that’s you, Bryson’s book serves as a much more readable, much funnier history of the English language.
Bryson’s book examines how English came to be the global language that it is today from its pretty insignificant roots (Germanic, at first, with heavy influences from every other language it came into contact with). With chapters on how humans are able to speak, how dictionaries came to be, and how swearing has evolved, this book will make you laugh and teach you quite a bit about linguistics.
Bryson is really the perfect author to tackle this subject. While some authors would make linguistics as dull as people think it will be, Bryson interrupts more dense linguistic discussions with funny anecdotes and examples. He spends a lot of time comparing English with other languages, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the differences between British English and American English.
This might seem like a book for a very niche audience, but it’s chock full of fun facts and trivia that are sure to impress. For example, did you know that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) devotes 60,000 words just to discussing the word set? It has almost 60 uses as a noun, over 100 as a verb, and 10 as a participial adjective. 60,000 words is the equivalent of a short novel. That’s crazy!!
Okay, reading back over that last paragraph, maybe this book is for a smaller audience. But I’d still recommend it if you have any interest in linguistics!