Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue The Untold Story of English



[Ebook] ➪ Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue The Untold Story of English ➩ John McWhorter – E17streets4all.co.uk A survey of the uirks and uandaries of the English language focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar Why do we say I am reading a catalog instead of I read a catalog Why do we say do at all Is th A survey of the Bastard Tongue PDF ☆ uirks and uandaries of the English language focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar Why do we say I am reading a catalog instead of I read a catalog Why do we say do at all Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values Our Magnificent eBook ´ Delving into these provocative topics and Our Magnificent Bastard Language distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history Covering such turning points as the little known Celtic and Welsh influences on English the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conuest and the Germanic invasions that started it Magnificent Bastard Tongue ePUB ´ all during the fifth century ad John McWhorter narrates this colorful evolution with vigor Drawing on revolutionary genetic and linguistic research as well as a cache of remarkable trivia about the origins of English words and syntax patterns Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary maddening nature of English and its Magnificent Bastard Tongue The Untold eBook ´ ironic simplicity due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain This is the book that language aficionados worldwide have been waiting for and no it's not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition.Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue The Untold Story of English

John Hamilton McWhorter Professor Bastard Tongue PDF ☆ McWhorter uses neither his title nor his middle initial as an author is an American academic and linguist who is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University where he teaches linguistics American studies philosophy and music history He is the author of a number Our Magnificent eBook ´ of books on language and on race relations His research spec.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue The Untold Story of English
  • Paperback
  • 230 pages
  • Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue The Untold Story of English
  • John McWhorter
  • English
  • 11 June 2016
  • 9781592403950

10 thoughts on “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue The Untold Story of English

  1. says:

    A fantastic book I have not come across anyone not even Steven Pinker who does such a good job of showing you how exciting linguistics can be His bold and unconventional history of the English language was full of ideas I'd never seen before but which made excellent sense And before I get into the review proper a contrite apology to Jordan She gave it to me six months ago as a birthday present and somehow I didn't open it until last week Well Jordan thank you and I'll try to be alert next timeSo the book I'm a linguist of sorts myself though a rather different kind to McWhorter his work has centered around the things that happen to grammar when different languages come into contact with each other while I use grammar as a way to construct speech enabled software But as you'll see a bit later the fact that we both give a central place to grammar means that our research directions have to do with each other than you might first think In Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue McWhorter looks at the history of the English language from his unusual viewpoint The language has clearly changed a lot since it came into existence; why did it evolve the way it did? McWhorter's answer is that the big changes happened when speakers of different languages started mingling together He focuses on three changes of this kind The rest of this review is available elsewhere the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons

  2. says:

    Like many on this site I decided to read this because of Manny’s enthusiastic review And I am glad I did As a teacher of English as a foreign language it seemed high time that I understand something of the language’s history This book was an excellent choice since it focused on that aspect of English most pesky to foreign speakers—grammar—while avoiding the too often told story of the growth of English vocabulary via French and LatinMcWhorter begins by focusing on two distinctive features of English grammar the so called ‘meaningless’ do as in “Do you eat rabbits?” and the use of the progressive in order to talk about the present as in “I am going” rather than simply “I go” Not coincidentally these two aspects of English cause some of the most persistent errors in my students In Spanish just like in every other European language I know there is no auxiliary verb needed for negations or uestions You can simply ask “ ¿Comes conejos?” Similarly in Spanish as in German or French you can use the simple present to refer to what you are doing now; thus a Spaniard can say “ Voy” I go to express a current movement and they reserve “ Estoy yendo” I am going for special emphasisCuriously no other Germanic language has these features Indeed they are absent according to McWhorter from every other European language with the notable exception of the Celtic languages specifically Welsh and Cornish This leads him to the uite natural supposition that the indigenous Celtic languages exerted an influence on the Old English spoken by the invading Anglo Saxons He musters uite a number of evidences and arguments in support of this thesis to the extent that I was pretty worn out by the end of the chapterTo be fair this idea is considered uite controversial in the academic community so McWhorter felt the need to champion it in full battle array Nevertheless I think the maxim “Know your audience” applies here I presume most readers of this book will be like me non specialists with little reason to be skeptical of the Celtic influence; to the contrary it struck me as extremely plausible So McWhorter’s harping on the point was simply taxing In any case if he is looking to influence the academic community a short popular book is not the medium to do itMcWhorter’s next chapter deals with the Viking influence which he holds responsible for the jettisoning of much of Old English’s serpentine Germanic grammar resulting in the relatively “easy” language we have today And he rounds out the book by making the considerably speculative argument that Proto Germanic diverged in such a distinctive way from Proto Indo European because a large number of Semitic speakers Phoenicians who had made it to Denmark learned the language At this point I began to have reservations about McWhorter's method Despite the reasonableness of the Celtic English and the Scandinavian English hypotheses the cumulative effects of McWhorter's arguments was to weaken each McWhorter’s specialty is researching how languages influenced one another historically; and one begins to suspect that this academic orientation leads him to see evidence for this phenomenon everywhere To me it is unsatisfying to write a history of English as a series of stories however plausible of how it was influenced by other languages This is because logically in order for there to be distinct languages capable of mixing there must first be languages capable of transforming without any linguistic contact It can all begin to sound like a biologist who insists that the reason elephants have tusks is because proto elephants mated with proto walruses epochs agoThis is an unfair comparison of course; and to repeat I think his Celtic argument is uite strong However the one reads the McWhorter’s method can begin to sound unsettlingly like Just So stories Some inconsistencies in the arguments make this clear For example he brushes aside the paucity of Celtic vocabulary in English while citing the many Scandinavian loan words as evidence for Viking influence not to mention the possible Semitic loan words in Proto Germanic To me it seems prima facie dubious that Welsh and Cornish speakers were able to fundamentally transform English's grammar without leaving a considerable stockpile of loanwords Importing words is the most natural thing in the world when learning a foreign language I do it all the time as do my studentsTo objections like these McWhorter is always able to point to a case where a similar event occurred as the scenario he is describing But again one surmises that the corpus of available examples is large enough to back up any claim he wishes to impose McWhorter criticizes other linguists for ignoring the causes of language change But is invoking the influence of other languages a satisfying explanation? To me this is of the same order as arguing that life on Earth originally came from Mars Perhaps but how does life arise in the first place?Now it may be unfair of me to nitpick what is after all a popular book But if McWhorter saw fit to include so much argument in favor of his uncommonly held opinions I think it behooves readers to be somewhat skeptical especially since the general reader has no specialized knowledge to ground her acceptance or rejection of McWhorter’s conclusions For my part I think a expository and less polemical book on the history of English would have made for far pleasing reading Yet McWhorter is an engaging writer and an original thinker so it was valuable to learn of his approach to linguistics

  3. says:

    This is an extraordinarily delightful little book that highlights some of English's lesser known idiosyncrasies because as the author notes English is not just a collection of words nor is its genius an markedly unusual openness to new vocabularyI first encountered John McWhorter with his book The Power of Babel A Natural History of Language Paperback which traced the evolution of languages from a first language and which is also highly recommended Actually having read The Singing Neanderthals The Origins of Music Language Mind and Body Paperback one could argue that there never was a first language since it's entirely possible that the first homo sapiens with the language instinct were talking to themselves before they ever began communicating with each other This book continues in Babel's vein focusing on EnglishThe first chapter discusses two characteristics of English not found in any of its Germanic cousins but that is found in Celtic languages Namely the meaningless do and using the present participle ing to express the present tense For example in the sentence Did she go to the store? do isn't really necessary She went to the store? could and does in other tongues work just as well but English doesn't like to say it that way And while it's fallen out of use in modern English Shakespeare used it in positive statements all the time She did go to the store YorickAnd in all other Germanic languages and again in nearly every other extant ones to say you are doing something in the present tense you say for example Er schreibt he writes English however likes to say He is writing reserved he writes for something like He writes for a newspaper or He writes every morning from 9 to 10In Chapter 2 McWhorter focuses on the somewhat arbitrary nature of grammar While he supports the idea that a language needs a standard grammar and that it should be taught as a linguist McWhorter wants to point out that language and grammar are constantly evolving and that nonstandard grammar is only wrong depending on context Arguing before the Supreme Court one probably wants to avoid ebonics or Jamaican patois but within the appropriate milieux those two variants make perfect sense and are no less expressive and complex than standard English no matter the detractorsChapter 3 discusses why English has lost the case endings that learners of other Indo European languages must struggle with amo amas amat Briefly it's all the fault of the Vikings In the 8th century AD much of north and central Britain fell to Viking invaders the Danelaw effectively wiping out all of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms except for Wessex However the Northmen were in a decided minority and wound up learning Old English as a second language Being adults learning a second language they learned it imperfectly dropping the case endings and passing on this battered English to their children McWhorter points out that the only case ending to survive in Northumbrian English was one that matched its Scandinavian euivalent the dative plural as it happens pp 115 6In Chapter 4 McWhorter sets out to demolish the popularly conceived idea that grammar shapes thought First posited in any serious manner by Benjamin Whorf the idea is that a language's grammar shapes how its speakers view the world Thus the Kawesar of Chile have no concept of the future because they have no future tense marking Of course neither does Japanese yet it is perfectly capable of letting its speakers express themselves regarding future events And then there's Whorf's prime example the Hopi language which he claimed had no tense marking at all This turns out to be nonsense the Hopi are capable of understanding tense and their language can and does make temporal distinctions They just don't do it as English speakers doMcWhorter does allow that the neo Whorfian reformulation of Whorf's original thesis may hold some validity but not much explanatory power It may highlight an interesting uirk in a language but little else As McWhorter writes The idea that the world's six thousand languages condition six thousand different pairs of cultural glasses simply does not hold water The truly enlightened position is that by and large all humansexperience life via the mental euipment shared by all members of our species No one is `primitive' but just as important no one is privileged over others with a primal connection to The Real p 169The final chapter is the most exciting for me because McWhorter discusses a hypothesis for why proto Germanic English's grandfather developed an interesting characteristic a sound shift from p t and k to f th and h respectively The sound morphing is unusual in that the former sounds are stops the latter fricatives hissy sounds in McWhorter's words It's hard to see why in isolation a p would become an f However if proto German had been in contact with a language rich in fricatives it's than possibleRecent archaeological evidence and linguistic reconstructions are suggesting that a Semitic influence is responsible most likely Phoenician or Punic Carthage Phoenician's daughter Both civilizations had documented contact with Northern Europe around the right time last half of the 1st millennium BC The evidence is circumstantial probably forever so but strongly suggestive Phoenicia had trading stations on the Atlantic side of Gibraltar the Tarshish of Biblical fame and Britain had long been a source of tin so it's not impossible to imagine a relatively large Semitic presence in proto Germanic's bailiwick whose only evidence remains in the oddities of Germanic sound changeI strongly recommend this general work even if you're not particularly interested in languages It's short and written entirely for a nonspecialist audience but appeals to language fans as well I'll also take this opportunity to recommend McWhorter's other work

  4. says:

    I read McWhorter's The Power of Babel a few years ago and thought it was terrific His subseuent effort Doing our own Thing was a major disappointment self indulgent undisciplined and essentially pointless So I would have skipped this one a cover blurb that sueezes the chestnuts rollicking tour and rousing celebration into the same sentence is generally not a good sign Did I really need reassurance from yet another linguist that it's OK to split an infinitive or to end a sentence with a preposition? But then there was Manny's recent rave review reaction? Modified rapture at best There's a kind of forced flashiness to McWhorter's style that I don't particularly enjoy Calling English a dolphin in a family of assorted types of deer the Germanic relatives of English gets the point across but the metaphor is nowhere near as clever as McWhorter seems to think and spinning it out across two paragraphs antlered fleet footed big brown eyed variations on a theme yeah dude we know what the word deer means as if you hadn't already enumerated antelopes springboks kudu and so on earlier in the sentence is irritating to say the least For the first 60 pages of this book McWhorter sets out to answer the uestion of why English favors the use of be and do as auxiliary verbs in constructions like I'm watching TV actual present as opposed to the habitual present I watch TV a distinction which confuses the bejasus out of most non native speakers in uestions do you watch? or negative statements None of its immediate relatives either on the Germanic or the Romance side uses such a construction Fair enough it's not a completely boring uestion though it's hardly the major mystery he makes it out to be either I figured out the answer to this at about age 5 when I first started to learn Irish Gaelic it's a Celtic thing see? So that extended first chapter in which the only point that is being developed is that the Celtic languages Irish Welsh Scots Gaelic influenced English syntax hardly ualifies as a major revelation Unfortunately McWhorter beats it into the ground like the proverbial dead horse For 60 pages You start the second chapter with a sense of profound relief only to find unspeakable horror that he's not done More statement of the profoundly obviousI guess this is the major reason for my inability to share Manny's rabid enthusiasm for this book Like so many of his colleagues McWhorter expends a lot of effort in addressing what I consider to be obvious linguistic strawmen the notion that linguistics is just about etymology the red herring of grammatical hypercorrectness the idea that vocabulary is the only measure of influence of one language on another the spectacularly uninteresting strong form of the Sapir Whorf hypothesis It's as if he's writing for a readership consisting exclusively of people who have never undergone the intellectual exercise of learning a second language Because if you've ever gone through that particular struggle it seems to me that you're guaranteed to have thought about language deeply enough to make much of the material in this book seem like little than a statement of the bloody obvious And yeah what the hell it's a book about language so I'll bitch The shorthand term McWhorter uses throughout that English employs a meaningless do seems infelicitous at best

  5. says:

    Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Yup That is a for real honest to goodness grammatically correct sentence in the English language Why it wasn't included in this book is a mystery for the ages because it's a great bit of wordplay that shows how simple and yet crazy this language can be But still this book was very interesting if pretty academic and technical This is the type of book that I would want to read along with the audio because I learn best visually but just listening was informative even if I didn't absorb as much of it as I would have liked I did enjoy the etymology info and the analysis of whether language plays any role in how people think for instance if a language has no tenses other than present I write vs I will write or I have written for example does that mean that the people who speak it have no concept of time? The author claims no and I agree though some have made claims of this nature in the past It just makes no sense to me Words are only part of language Tone context prefixes and suffixes etc also factor inI liked the author's reading of this book and I think he did a great job with it not only in English but also all of the other comparison languages This was uite interesting and if you like language or etymology I definitely recommend it

  6. says:

    Seems like every book on linguistics published in the past few decades has been contractually reuired to include a takedown of both Sapir Whorfianism the idea that a language's grammarvocabulary shapes its speakers' worldview in any compelling way and prescriptivism imposing arbitrary rules of correct usage despite the common and widely understood use of incorrect grammar And that's fine I didn't mind listening to McWhorter play me the hits one timeBut this book also included some theories that were new to me and very interesting1 There is convincing evidence that Old Middle English were shaped by generations of influence from Celtic speaking adults learning the language and seasoning it with their own grammar particularly meaningless do Do you like cats? as opposed to something like Like you cats? and progressive ing I am feeding the cats rather than I feed the cats right now Both of these are found in the Celtic dialects of Welsh and Cornish but in no other Indo European languages so McWhorter surmises that their appearance in English must be due to the influence of these dialects This is controversial because it has been widely believed that Anglo Saxon invaders killed off nearly all the Celts in Britain in the 6th Century long before the English language picked up these uirks McWhorter points out several flaws in this assumption2 The much vaunted influence of French speaking Normans who conuered England in 1066 and maintained cultural influence for centuries is according to McWhorter overstated Sure English still includes many French derived words as a result of this history but they were largely for fancy things associated with the aristocracy eg the lords ate French derived pork; poor farmers raised English derived swine and there really wasn't a lot of direct linguistic mixing The ruling Normans mostly kept to themselves and left very little imprint on grammar3 The stronger influence on English grammar particularly in simplifying it filing off case endings and so forth came from the 8th Century Viking invaders who actually integrated with the local population and learned their language though imperfectly as adult learners tend to4 Even further back Proto Germanic appears to have been strongly shaped by contact with some other group of people resulting in a similar simplification Germanic languages are far less inflected than most other Indo European ones as well as a vast set new of vocabulary often having to do with the sea sailing marine animals and a few other specific topics In all about 13 of Proto Germanic words have no cognate in other Indo European languages It's unclear who these people would have been but McWhorter cites evidence for speakers of Semitic languages eg Akkadian Aramaic as well as shakier evidence for Phoenician explorers tradersIn general the simplicity of English and to a lesser extent all Germanic languages compared to the rest of the Indo European family can be attributed to the influence or bastardization as McWhorter calls it of multiple other cultures over the centuries Non native speakers today have a relatively easy time learning English as a result of these ancient non native speakers ignoring or standardizing many of the language's complexities

  7. says:

    What a fun book This is one of those rare times where I would suggest having the audio and actually following along in the book The audio is wonderful because you actually get to hear all the wonderful languages McWhorter is referencing also well as just here him gush and laugh while narrating You can tell just how passionate he is about linguistics as well as making linguistics a known subject to the genpop It was a lot of fun But if you had the book to follow along in as well then you would have the visual comparison of the sentence structures That would also be very interesting to look at None of it is too detailed it really is just a basic introductory book If you had any linguistic classes in college you will surely have heard most of this I took Latin and German so we freuently touched on these subjects but I never had a chance to go in depth into any of them Truly fascinating subject especially the history and formation of languages So it will be old news to some people but in general I really appreciated his method My only real complaint is that occasionally the analogies seemed forced and went on for too long Thats not much a complaint though All in all I thoroughly suggest this book Its really made me reconsider English and how I speak and write ever day What fun#deathtomeaningless'do'

  8. says:

    Never thought Linguistics can be so much fun Too many details to discuss But if you ever wondered why for instance you has the same form for both singular and plural why we say aren't I instead of the logical amn't I why we use the meaningless do or they as a singular pronoun instead of heshe when the gender is not clear you might get some answers or at least accept the fact that in the author's own words shitte happens He uses facts comparison logic and fun to explain why English is so different from all the other languages how its grammar changed over the years than other Germanic languages and emphasizes the differences between spoken and written language The book is delightful so well structured documented written you don't need to be an English major or a linguist to enjoy it

  9. says:

    In the main John McWhorter is indulging himself in his area of expertise seeming demanding us to care about arguments within a fairly specialized study of language Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue may be little than an effort to appeal to the populist interest in grammar that began with the fairly popular Eats Shoots and Leaves That was an effort to bring to the commoners the rather esoteric debate over the Oxford comma McWhorter wants to argue for something elseWhat is that something else? To tell you I’d have to care or have a lot of education in a specialized area The idea is that somewhere between its proto Germanic roots and the modern English we all love some things happened Like all spoken languages rules were made up or changed or imported from whoever happened to be speaking at the time Since England played host to various invaders many of them Norse but of various particular varieties they all had a whack at getting the grammar from there to here Tellingly most of this was done absent a written record so the debate is properly between experts who have to agree that they are all speculatingMcWhorter may be the correct for all his displays of abstract or is it obscure learning? It is hard to know who he is pushing against and if they are as determined in their opinion I came to resent the notion that he was going to go past the learned within his profession to get us folk excited Then having read the best sentence in the book; the one beginning “For the Final Chapter” He writes “Second there is no logical conception of “proper” grammar as distinct from “bad” grammar that people lapse into out of ignorance or laziness” Balderdash How about this for a simple logical conception?Either a particular construction promotes communication or it confuses The reason for rules in a language is to create a common set of expectations such that a listener and importantly the reader does not have to guess what the words in that seuence are meant to mean I suspect that McWhorter was particularly careful about the way the words on his contract were assembled prefixed and suffixed Besides issues like regionalisms and the instability of fad expressions meaning cannot be reliably conveyed absent some common rules about how things are said and written Some odd hundred years ago it may not have mattered if a typical Welshman was instantly understood by a random Irishman Likely they would never meet Mine is not a plea for the kind of purity and fixity that the French expend so much energy to enforce all languages are always in flux including some of the dead ones People still make words for use in Latin and Hebrew having been written by people with none of the common forms of 21st century technology have modern speakers who have made a leap across millennia Languages change And no charge for that insight

  10. says:

    If the history of language excites you as it does me this is a fun uick and accessible book John McWhorter is a linguist and his excitement for language is palpable I recommend the audiobook version McWhorter himself narrates and he is admirably capable of rendering the various foreign language passages as they are meant to be heard and not as I might have imagined them and various lines are customized to apply to those listening rather than reading Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is of course referring to English McWhorter is making a few cases here a major one is that English owes some of its structural oddities when compared with other Germanic languages to an early 5th6th century interaction with Celtic and Welsh speakers He holds this position in opposition to mainstream linguist consensus and we get to hear his side of the argument I am not familiar with the other side's position so I can't offer perspective on the debate itself McWhorter strikes me as persuasive even if I am subtly suspicious of how he characterizes the opposing viewpoint The prime suspects in this analysis are English's progressive verb formations I am writing instead of simply I write and the presence of meaningless do an oft repeated phrase in this book referring to our odd use of the word do Do you see my hairbrush? that does not in itself convey any meaning Twelve or so Germanic languages never managed to sprout these features yet Celtic and Welsh have them Coincidence? McWhorter spends a fair amount of time maybe even an unfair amount it gets repetitive unpacking this argument and defending against counters For example he must explain why Celtic vocabulary did not also creep into English he points to similar transfers in other language clashes and why we don't see written evidence of this influence for nearly a millennium written records enforced Old English grammar and it wasn't until after the Norman conuest forced scribes to write in French for 150 years that English returned in written form with its Old English tradition broken and the vernacular in placeI read this at a convenient time as I am currently 143 days into studying German using Duolingo and Memrise apps which both keep records of streaks There are constant references to German grammar and the difficulty of learning German that were helpful in terms of contextualizing what I've learned so far and providing commiseration Another major point about English origins focused on Viking influence This Viking butchery involved a great simplification of English grammar removing a number of cases dative accusative and so forth and uncoupling the gendering of nouns McWhorter demonstrates how the timing works out for Vikings to have influenced our grammar simply by being second language speakers and not picking up on all the complex conjugation rules This butchered English was then adopted by their children and passed alongAnother hypothesis is that even farther back in time somewhere before Proto Germanic had fully separated from Proto Indo European PIE there was the influence of a Semitic language he points the finger at Phoenician in softening some of the hard sounds of PIE into the softer ones we see in Germanic languages For example f in father or German vater instead of the p in latin pater He makes the case for a few of some dozen or so words and the historical context of Phoenician voyages but admits this is a hypothesis that would reuire much supporting evidence in order to claim as fact And we may never have it For now it's an intriguing possibilityThere is one section of the book that doesn't fall under the banner of our magnificent bastard tongue but I'm guessing McWhorter found it was a pressing topic that he wanted to address The Sapir Whorf hypothesis states that language structure dictates the underlying mental perception of the world and so languages that contain uniue words or constructions give their speakers special insight into the relevant concepts There's a strong and weak form of this hypothesis and McWhorter argues at length against the strong form while conceding that in small ways language does influence thought patterns I agree on this and am not sure how many people would take the stronger form seriouslyAnother fun theme in the book is taking down the pervasive grammar rules the province of pedants You can't end a sentence with a preposition You can't refer to Sam and me going to the store You can't use the pronoun they when referring to a singular subject And so on Language is a living mutating creature and McWhorter laughs at those who try to freeze it in place or plant arbitrary usage flags He points out many examples of illogic baked into English and many hills that past pedants have died upon As Baruch Spinoza said I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule not to bewail not to scorn human actions but to understand them This is a book that encourages us all to observe enjoy and understand

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