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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English [Format Kindle]

John McWhorter

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Descriptions du produit

Présentation de l'éditeur

A survey of the quirks and quandaries 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? Delving into these provocative topics and more, 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 Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it 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 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).

Biographie de l'auteur

John McWhorter is the author of the bestseller Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, and four other books. He is associate professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a contributing editor to The City Journal and The New Republic. He has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and has appeared on Dateline NBC, Politically Incorrect, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 715 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 268 pages
  • Editeur : Gotham (30 octobre 2008)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Non activé
  • Composition améliorée: Activé
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°297.986 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  119 commentaires
81 internautes sur 84 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 "A Revisionist History of English" 16 novembre 2008
Par Stanley H. Nemeth - Publié sur Amazon.com
Linguist John McWhorter in his latest work advances a very well argued contrarian view of the development of the English language. The prevailing conventional view is that changes in English over time principally involve just the addition of new words from Latin, French, and, in the ages of exploration, words from everywhere. The conventional view rests centrally on the "hard evidence" reflected in surviving writings. Very adroitly, McWhorter reminds us that in early societies the written language was scribal and thus no necessary reflection of what the bulk of the non-literate population actually spoke. Nonetheless, the conventional view at its narrowest takes what merely survives in writing as a picture of the whole, imagining in doing so that it is being scientific and avoiding "airy assumptions." History, however, McWhorter reminds us, invariably involves much that is lost, requiring as well a reconstruction of events based on high levels of probability.

McWhorter rests his contrarian case on such arguments as he deals with other surviving bits of circumstantial evidence. His chief argument is that the history of English may best be understood as a consequence of the mixing of languages, not merely the addition of new words from foreign sources or the consequence of changes that "just happened." He seeks to explain the principal changes, not merely and dully to document them. Starting with the invasion of the British Isles by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes after the Roman departure, McWhorter disputes the notion that these invaders completed a successful Holocaust on the native Celtic peoples. He contends that two of the oddest features in English, separating it not only from other Germanic tongues but from all the other world's languages as well are the meaningless "Do" in such questions as "Do you do the dishes?" and in negatives, "No I don't do them," and the use of the present progressive, "I am doing the dishes," where other languages normally use just the present form, "I do the dishes." McWhorter's reminder is that these oddities were found in the neighboring tongues of Welsh and Cornish, and nowhere else. Occam's razor points to the conclusion that these Celtic tongues added certain features to Old English grammar, features which only become apparent in documents once English writing years later comes closer to actual English speaking.

While the Celts added such features to old English, the later Viking invaders, learning English as a Second Language, stripped it of many of its "hard" to master Germanic attributes. Thus, Old English had many of its endings shaved off, and it stands alone among European languages as free of gendered nouns.

McWhorter also presents a compelling critique of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that a specific language's grammatical structure determines the thought patterns of its speakers. His convincing rebuttal is that homo sapiens in essential respects are alike the world over, and that their needs and interests influence grammatical structure, not vice-versa.

Finally, McWhorter considers possible influences affecting Proto-Germanic even before one of its branches became Old English. He raises the possibility of a Semitic influence here, perhaps the result of European voyages by colonizing Phoenicians - all in all, a provocative hypothesis, deserving to be better known and worthy of further exploration.

This is a lucidly written and frequently witty account of today's lingua franca's history. It is at its heart a fascinating piece of detective work, and it is certain to interest a wide variety of readers.
86 internautes sur 92 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Celts and Vikings and Phoenicians, Oh My! 4 février 2009
Par Richard Posner - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter (Gotham Books) is the most entertaining book about linguistics that I've read. As a teacher and writer, I love English and its quirks, but I never could get my mind around all the charts, graphs, and jargon of formal linguistics. This book gave me a nice language fix without sounding like a calculus text.

It's relevant to mention that McWhorter is black, because a racial subtext runs through this book. McWhorter's linguistic specialty is Creole languages--those lilting mash-ups created by black slaves out of native tongues and European languages. In Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, he suggests that English is a kind of Creole, and chides "traditional" linguists for ignoring the way English was "gumbo-ed" by the Celts, Vikings, and Phoenicians.

First, McWhorter attempts to show that Celts had a significant effect on Old English, evident in our unique use of the "meaningless do" (we say "Do you want to go shopping" whereas all other languages say something like "Want you to go shopping?") and progressive constructions (we say "Mary is singing" whereas all other languages say something like "Mary sings."). In another chapter, McWhorter agrees that Norse invasions of Angle-land caused many of our inflectional endings to drop off but goes further and insists that Norse influence truly battered our grammar. Finally, McWhorter goes out on an intriguing limb in proposing that Phoenician influenced Proto-Germanic (he gives as evidence striking similarities in Germanic and Semitic words). In the middle of these assaults on traditional linguistics, McWhorter pops in a rant against grammar rules, insisting that all grammar is just fashion.

All of this is fascinating and persuasively argued, with loads of examples; in fact, the avalanche of examples might bury all but the most committed reader. The "racial" undercurrent is an unspoken--well, partially spoken--complaint that traditional linguists want English to have a "purer" history than it does, and that the influences McWhorter argues for are those of common people speaking English, rather than educated people writing English. Traditional linguists dismiss the possibility of Celtic or Phoenician influence, McWhorter implies, just as they refuse to accept Creole tongues as real languages. Even the "all grammar is fashion" chapter carries a whiff of the Ebonics debate.

However, McWhorter's tone is always good-humored, and he writes delightfully. He makes strong cases for his theories, though I don't know enough formal linguistics to counter-argue (and McWhorter seems to be fluent in about forty different tongues!). I'm willing to agree with much of what he says, though I'm not as ready to dismantle Standard Written English as he is. If you enjoy English as a language, if you are curious about how and why we say things the way we do, if you like a good CSI story, and especially if you've wanted to know more about the history of English but were intimidated by forbidding textbooks, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue--a quick read at under 200 pages--can have you daydreaming about wild Celts, hairy Vikings, and exotic Phoenicians all chattering away and creating the rich and peculiar language we call English.
58 internautes sur 66 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Three ideas, 256 pages 16 janvier 2010
Par Fíal - Publié sur Amazon.com
I trashed another of John McWhorter's books, and I must say that this one was better written. But it suffers from the same logorrhea as the first. After hearing the intriguing idea that English grammar was strongly influenced by Welsh, I was ready for a chapter on that. But it went on for half the book, going round and round in circles repeating the same point. I mean, it just went on and on and kept saying the same thing.

Did you know English grammar was probably profoundly influenced by Welsh? Do you need to hear that again? Wait, I think you do.

Let's talk about it some more here!

Etc. etc. etc. Do you get the idea?

Okay! Now let's talk some more about it! Some scholars don't take it seriously that English grammar could be strongly influenced by Welsh. Can you believe that? Let's discuss that here.

The second idea in the book is that the Semitic languages affected the structure and vocabulary of ancient Indo-European. This again is a possibly unprovable hypothesis, but fascinating. Here, I would have liked more solid info, but at least what was presented was done concisely and interestingly.

The third idea is simply that grammar and language change all the time, and that they are created by their users. Hence there is no *linguistic* reason not to say "Me and Steve went to the store" or "She gave a party for Steve and I." This is not a new idea to anyone who has read anything in linguistics, but it can be useful to announce it to newbies.

This section, too, goes on and on and on and on.

On the whole, Mr McWhorter is an entertaining writer in brief doses. He makes some interesting points, but you won't easily find their tiny arms waving in the flood of repetitive assertions. The book is a magazine article stre-e-e-e-tched into a way-too-long book.

I have hope though! The footnotes were manageable this time.
12 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Incomplete and Annoying to Read 12 février 2012
Par Laura - Publié sur Amazon.com
I am not an expert, but I did major in Linguistics in college. I found McWhorter's arguments horribly oversimplified and tedious to read. I'm glad that he is putting linguistic scholarship out there for the general public, but someone with even a rudimentary knowledge (or even a grammar or history nerd) would know.

Being familiar with some of the counter-arguments he suggests, I can say that he presents them in a manner intended to make them appear somewhat foolish, rather than addressing them properly. He does make good arguments about the adaptations he suggests, but the manner in which he goes about it is distracting and annoying. Going on a several-page rant about cars as a thinly-disguised metaphor for grammar is just beating the reader over the head with a stick, trying to make a point.

The book is self-referential, perhaps in an attempt to be light-hearted and comedic, but it fails miserably. The same examples come up again and again, and it feels like the author feels the need to impress the reader with his wide familiarity with languages. He makes many references to certain other languages and the places he traveled (sorry he was unable to find lemonade while in Scandenavia).

The section on the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis was mocking. The hypothesis does not mean that people can't understand a concept their language has no word for, it is about what one is obliged to think about every time ones speaks.

McWhorter dismisses the idea of something happening without any basis, but doesn't address the dozens of times within the history of Germanic or of English where we really have documented cases of that happening, ie the Great English Vowel Shift.

I found his idea that Germanic may have had Phoenician influences interesting... I don't feel the need to attribute Grimm's law to Phoenician sound changes- sounds moving around are not nearly as improbably as the author makes them sound. The fact that a third of Germanic words don't have an easily identifiable PIE relating is intriguing, but some of the words he cites are words that are very rarely adopted in linguistic shadings. The Online Etymology Dictionary proposes that in some cases, a desire to avoid "taboo" words may have lead to the adoption of other words, such as replacing the PIE *esen- with a less taboo word, something based on *bhle and which turns up in English as "blood." These alternatives get no space in McWhorter's account.

If you have an interest in linguistics, this may be an interesting read. Overall, I found it annoying to read and enjoyed neither McWhorter's manner of presenting his ideas nor the ideas themselves.
8 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Needs an editor 3 septembre 2011
Par Edward - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
In the first section of the book, he puts forth some interesting and fairly persuasive reason why English probably picked up some grammatical ticks from other languages. He then spends the next several dozen (hundred?) pages explaining why any competing theories can't be true. He does this ad nauseum, and just when you think he's moved on to an interesting side bar about comparative linguistics, he comes back to beat the dead horse a few more times. SPOILER ALERT: English got "meaningless do" from Gaelic. Now you can skip just about all of Chapter 1.

That said, he's got a good sense of humor about things, and he clearly relishes his subject matter. It's also fun to listen him do the accents for several dozen languages throughout the text (I listened to the Audible version). After the first chapter, things actually picked up quite a bit. At one point he gives his thanks to the editor for relaxing some of the typical publishing-house grammatical rules which linguists find pointless and annoying (such as using "he or she" instead of a singular, neutral "they"). I just wish that same editor had been a little more diligent about cutting out some of the repetitiveness around "meaningless do".

In summary, probably not the best choice as a first introduction to linguistics, but recommended more for readers already somewhat familiar with the prevailing theories.
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