By John McWhorter

A survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, concentrating on our unusual and lovely grammar Why can we say “I am analyzing a catalog” rather than “I learn a catalog”? Why will we say “do” in any respect? Is the way in which we communicate a mirrored image of our cultural values? Delving into those provocative subject matters and extra, Our tremendous Bastard Language distills enormous quantities of years of attention-grabbing lore into one full of life background. masking such turning issues because the little-known Celtic and Welsh impacts on English, the influence of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that began all of it in the course of the 5th century advert, John McWhorter narrates this colourful evolution with vigour. Drawing on innovative genetic and linguistic examine in addition to a cache of exceptional minutiae concerning the origins of English phrases and syntax styles, Our terrific Bastard Tongue finally demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English— and its ironic simplicity because of its position as a streamlined lingua franca in the course of the early formation of england. this is often the publication that language aficionados around the globe were anticipating (and no, it’s no longer a sin to finish a sentence with a preposition).

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Extra info for Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English

Sample text

Any of us sought for public comment are familiar with the public’s understandable expectation that to be a linguist is to carry thousands of etymologies in one’s head, when in fact, on any given question as to where a word comes from, we usually have to go searching in a dictionary like anyone else. Linguists are more interested in how the words are put together, and how the way they are put together now is different from how they were put together in the past, and why. That is, we are interested in what the layman often knows as “syntax,” which we call grammar.

The same has been true with English—and Persian, Turkish, Vietnamese, practically every Aboriginal language in Australia, and . . well, you get the point. As such, the lesson that the difference between Old English and Modern English is a whole lot of new words is, for me, something of a thin gruel. Don’t get me wrong—words are nice. I like them. I am no more immune than the next person to taking pleasure in tasty etymologies such as that the word tea started way off in one dialect of Chinese, was taken up by Malays, and subsequently by the Dutch traders in their lands as thee, and was first pronounced “tay,” coming to be pronounced “tee” only later, while that same ea spelling is still pronounced “ay” in names like Reagan.

Then, most importantly, meaningless do is meaningless, but German’s do is meaningful. It is used when you want to emphasize some part of the sentence. When you put stress on what you want to emphasize, you might also toss in a do. So: imagine if now and then you fall into moods where you enjoy taking a knife and stabbing pillows open. Suppose you run out of pillows but you still have that nagging urge, and then you see a laundry bag bulging full of clothes. A thought balloon pops up over your head: Maybe I’ll cut the bag open!

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