The Mother Tongue Publisher: Harper Perennial Review

The Mother Tongue Publisher: Harper Perennial
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The Mother Tongue Publisher: Harper Perennial ReviewEnglish has over the centuries become a de-facto lingua franca of international communications. This fact is very remarkable in its own right, but it is even more fascinating when one takes into the account English's inconspicuous beginnings. The origins of English hail back to the language of few Germanic tribes (Angles in particular), but over the centuries it has evolved considerably under the influence of other languages and cultures that it came in contact with. Today's influence that English exerts is primarily due to two main factors: the colonial dominance of the Great Britain in the past centuries, and the current economic, military and cultural dominance of the United States.
In "The Mother Tongue" Bill Bryson explores the history of English, with particular emphasis on many of its idiosyncrasies and amusing peculiarities. This is a light-hearted yet serious book that educates as well as entertains. Bryson has a very conversational approach to this topic, which makes this book eminently accessible and enjoyable to read. However, he also often prances carelessly into sarcasm and disdain, which can be on occasion off-putting. Some of the "facts" presented in this book should be taken with a large grain of salt to say the least, and many of the opinions in here are just that: opinions.
One of the most prescient parts of the book comes at the very end. Anyone who has ever had a chance to travel to different parts of the English speaking world would have noticed many idioms and words that seem to be at odds with the "official" English. The fragmentation of any language that is spread over such a vast area is in many respects inevitable, or at least it was so in the past. Many people have for a long time argued that English too will eventually splinter into many mutually incomprehensible dialects. However, thanks to the mass communications the exact opposite has happened: there has been an increasing homogenization of English. This was already well established at the time of writing of this book. The subsequent explosion of the Internet has only accelerated this trend. It is to Bryson's credit that he was able to anticipate such trends.
Overall, this is a fascinating and instructive book about the English language, but it is not without some shortcomings. Nonetheless it is a very entertaining read and I would certainly recommend it.
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