The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way

The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way

Bill Bryson

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0380715430

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


With dazzling wit and astonishing insight, Bill Bryson—the acclaimed author of The Lost Continent—brilliantly explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience and sheer fun of the English language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can't), to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world's largest growth industries.

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fraternity, and so on. Under the long onslaught from the Scandinavians and Normans, Anglo-Saxon had taken a hammering. According to one estimate [Lincoln Barnett, page 97], about 85 percent of the 30,000 AngloSaxon words died out under the influence of the Danes and Normans. That means that only about 4,500 Old English words survived—about i percent of the total number of words in the Oxford English Dictionary. And yet those surviving words are among the most fundamental words in English: man,

untidiness. It must be exasperating for foreigners to have to learn that a thing unseen is not unvisible, but invisible, while something that cannot be reversed is not inreversible but irreversible and that a thing not possible is not nonpossible or antipossible but impossible. Furthermore, they must learn not to make the elementary mistake of assuming that because a word contains a negative suffix or prefix it is necessarily a negative word. In-, for instance, almost always implies negation but

line clearly you are a New Yorker. Whether you call it pop or soda, bucket or pail, baby carriage or baby buggy, scat or gesundheit, the beach or the shore—all these and countless others tell us a little something about where you come from. Taken together they add up to what grammarians call your idiolect, the linguistic quirks and conventions that distinguish one group of language users from another. A paradox of accents is that in England where people from a common heritage have been living

it grudgingly acknowledges that the commonest spelling "is perh. Shakespeare." (To which we might add, it cert. is.) In the spring of 1 989 , a second edition of the dictionary was issued, containing certain modifications, such as the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet instead of Murray's own quirky system. It comprised the original twelve volumes, plus four vast supplements issued between 1972 and 1989. Now sprawling over twenty volumes, the updated dictionary is a third bigger than its

than chip 27885 or darker than chip 13711. . . . The color comparisons shall be made under north sky daylight with the objects held in such a way as to avoid specular refractance." And so it runs on for fifteen densely typed pages. Every single item the Pentagon buys is similarly detailed: plastic whistles (sixteen pages), olives (seventeen pages), hot chocolate (twenty pages). Although English is capable of waffle and obfuscation, it is nonetheless generally more straightforward than eastern

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