Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop Cyber Monday Deals Week in Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now DIYED Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Listen in Prime Shop now Shop now
The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way and over 2 million other books are available for Amazon Kindle . Learn more
  • RRP: £9.99
  • You Save: £3.00 (30%)
FREE Delivery in the UK on orders with at least £10 of books.
In stock.
Dispatched from and sold by Amazon. Gift-wrap available.
Mother Tongue: The Story ... has been added to your Basket
+ £2.80 UK delivery
Used: Good | Details
Condition: Used: Good
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See all 2 images

Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language Paperback – 1 Oct 2009

281 customer reviews

See all formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price
New from Used from
Kindle Edition
"Please retry"
"Please retry"
£3.82 £3.48
Unknown Binding
"Please retry"
Note: This item is eligible for click and collect. Details
Pick up your parcel at a time and place that suits you.
  • Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
  • Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
How to order to an Amazon Pickup Location?
  1. Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
  2. Dispatch to this address when you check out
Learn more

Cyber Monday Deals Week in Books
Visit our Deals in Books store to discover Amazon's greatest ever deals. Shop now
£6.99 FREE Delivery in the UK on orders with at least £10 of books. In stock. Dispatched from and sold by Amazon. Gift-wrap available.

Frequently Bought Together

  • Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language
  • +
  • Troublesome Words
  • +
  • Icons of England
Total price: £15.97
Buy the selected items together

Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone

To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; ISBN 0-140-14305-X edition (1 Oct. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141040084
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141040080
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (281 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Authors

Discover books, learn about writers, and more.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Who would have thought that a book about the English language would be so entertaining? Certainly not this grammar-allergic reviewer, but The Mother Tongue pulls it off admirably. Bill Bryson--a zealot--is the right man for the job. Who else could rhapsodise about "the colourless murmur of the schwa" with a straight face? It is his unflagging enthusiasm, seeping from between every sentence, that carries the book.

Bryson displays an encyclopedic knowledge of his topic, and this inevitably encourages a light tone; the more you know about a subject, the more absurd it becomes. No jokes are necessary, the facts do well enough by themselves, and Bryson supplies tens per page. As well as tossing off gems of fractured English (from a Japanese eraser: "This product will self- destruct in Mother Earth."), Bryson frequently takes time to compare the idiosyncratic tongue with other languages. Not only does this give a laugh (one word: Welsh), and always shed considerable light, it also makes the reader feel fortunate to speak English. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Not only fascinating but extremely funny' - Angus Deayton 'The sort of linguistics I like, anecdotal, full of revelations, and with not one dull paragraph' - Ruth Rendell, Sunday Times 'A gold mine of language-anecdote, information, curiosity. A suprise on every page... enthralling' Observer 'Delightful, amusing and provoking... A joyful celebration of our wonderful language, which is packed with curiosities and enlightenment on every page' Sunday Express 'A delightful survey - though with its good humour, wealth of anecdote, and boyish enthusiasm, "romp" would be a better word.' - David Crystal

See all Product Description

Inside This Book

(Learn More)
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
Search inside this book:

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Feb. 1998
Format: Paperback
A treasure house of the facts of the history of English and its oddities, but the "facts" are sometimes suspect, eg we do not say gill for girl in South Africa and I'm told that ndlebezakho (not hlebeshako) in Xhosa (incidentally President Mandela's mother tongue; not XoXa) freely translates as darn your ears (not your mother's ears) and is a mild admonition such as to a naughty child and not "the most provocative possible remark".
I was comforted by the examples of incorrect grammar and usage quoted from leading authors' works on English, to which one can add examples from the book itself, eg Some idea of the bewilderments ... are indicated; forbidden from; They find particular pleasure in taking old Norman names and mashing them around until they became; Often the names we know places by is.

My rating is based on the book's entertainment value, which is only impaired by the uncertainty as to when one can rely on what is said and when not. But I caution against mistaking the book as a serious reference work despite the academic-seeming footnotes. The author himself makes no such disclaimer, at least in my edition (1990).
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By RR Waller TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 16 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
Bill Bryson is a journalist by profession and a writer of very humorous travel books in a style which is all his own. From my knowledge of his many books, he is highly-intelligent, erudite and, coupled with his journalist's training, he is able to turn his mind to many subjects, e.g. his book "The Short History of Nearly Everything" is excellent, full of detailed information about a wide range of differing disciplines.

I am sure he would not claim to be an expert on the English language in the David Crystal league and he would probably be the first to admit the errors in the book but, what it does reveal is divergent roots of our language and the ways in which it has developed; obviously researched well and skilfully crafted, Bryson obviously enjoyed writing it and his interest and pleasure in using language comes trough the words. For serious linguistic students looking for a reference text, this is probably not it but for anyone with a passing interest in and enjoyment of language, it will be fascinating - despite the inaccuracies picked out by various reviewers.

I may be wrong, but I think this book was a companion to the radio series of the same or a similar name. I have the cds and the programmes are very enjoyable with interviews with a wide and knowledgeable group of experts. Unfortunately, I have looked for the cds on Amazon without success.
6 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
170 of 192 people found the following review helpful By Deman on 29 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
I found, for the most part of reading, this book to be very entertaining and informative. I read a few other Bryson books in the past, about travelling etc... but as an English teacher, well TEFL teacher, I thought this would be a great book to use quotes from for anecdotes during my lessons.

The problem occurred near the start of chapter 14 (out of 16).

"Some cultures don't swear at all..... The Finns, lacking the sort of words you need to describe your feeling when you stub your toe getting up to answer a wrong number at 2.00 a.m., rather oddly adopted the word ravintolassa. It means 'in the restaurant'."

This is utter, for lack of a better word, hevosenpaska (literal translation "Horse S**t"). I have NEVER in my 10 years living in Finland heard anyone shout out RAVINTOLASSA, unless of course there were too many people in the restaurant and the guy was shouting into his mobile saying where he is. The Finns have quite a few swear words in their vocabulary that can be heard way too often.

So this led me to thinking, "if this is so way off track when it comes to Finland, what about the rest of the book when he writes about cultures I'm not familiar with?"

This has taken the shine off what I thought was an excellent piece of writing and that's why I'm giving it 2/5.

28 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Leeloo on 16 April 2008
Format: Paperback
I liked this book. It is written with Bryson's usual witty and engaging style. It is a book that is absolutely of the high standard any reader of Bryson's previous books will have come to expect.

Having said that, this book is certainly not for everyone, even if you have thoroughly enjoyed many of Bryson's previous offerings. I have an amateur's interest in language and this book provided me with an informative introduction to its history and quirky nature. If you are not interested in the subject I think you will probably find this book very dull indeed.

There are some downsides to bare in mind, even for those with an avid interest. Firstly, it contains lots of list of words in the text which can be tedious, to the point where I was skipping whole paragraphs to get to the point. The second is that this book was written nearly 20 years ago and those with a background knowledge will realise that it is out of date in parts. This need not be a bad thing, as it stimulated me to consider how the English language has evolved in my lifetime.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Trevor Coote on 13 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
It has been said that English and American are two cultures divided by a common language. Here Bill Bryson, an American, gets to grips with that common language which through its extraordinary flexibility and the even more extraordinary willingness to welcome and absorb words and phrases from any of the world's five thousand-odd languages and dialects, has become the lingua franca of business, science and technology, and communication. Any past predictions that the English spoken in the two countries will gradually diverge into two mutually incomprehensible tongues has well and truly been laid to rest with the advent of the Internet since Bryson's book was first published. Despite 4000 different words in general usage it is very unlikely that serious confusion or misunderstanding would arise in an exchange between somebody from Birmingham, West Midlands or Birmingham, Alabama. Of course, the differences between American and British English is not the principal subject discussed in this fast-paced, humorous homage to the most expansive of the world's languages, though in some ways it is one of the most important, given the prominent role of the United States in shaping world economy and culture. Bryson is particularly strong on debunking the myths surrounding so-called Americanisms and the vitriol directed towards American English by British commentators and statesmen over the years. In fact, most terms were in usage in the mother country in the past, had died out there, and then were reintroduced in recent times from America to where they had previously been carried by British immigrants (Shakespeare, for example, used `trash', a word today associated uniquely with America).Read more ›
2 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Recent Customer Reviews