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English for the Natives: Discover the Grammar You Don't Know You Know Hardcover – 10 Oct 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; 1st Edition edition (10 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848548370
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848548374
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2.3 x 20.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 202,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Ritchie's approach to English grammar in this entertaining book on the subject is a relief (Sunday Times)

This informative read reassures that mastering our language is easier than it seems (Mail on Sunday, Paperback of the Week)

A hugely entertaining read, full of attitude and verve and sharp running jokes. And underneath all this lies rigorous linguistic heft, which gives the book real authority (Daily Mail)

I learnt a lot about my own language from English for the Natives, and about how our language and our understanding of the world have developed in tandem. And I particularly appreciated Harry Ritchie's bold dismantling of the metaphysics of Chomskyan structuralism. Wonderful to have such a fresh first-hand observation of how language actually works (Michael Frayn)

Essential reading (Nick Hornby)

Clear, trenchant, funny, Ritchie makes thinking a pleasure (John Carey)

An engaging response to an educational disaster . . . This book is sensible, valuable and written with a sense of fun (TLS)

How many new books are there about words, grammar and language? Nonetheless, Harry Ritchie's English for the Natives leaps to the top of the pile for its sharp, good sense, linguistic rigour [and] sense of humour (Marcus Berkmann, The Spectator)

On the pleasantly scholarly end of the word book spectrum. Informed by linguistics, it has a particularly good discussion of the controversy between "innatists" (following Chomsky) and others (Guardian)

Book Description

A guide to the grammar you already know.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's really difficult to know on what level to read or to review this book, because just as the reader thinks they're going on a fruitful journey through the author's scholarship he strikes a jarring note with a swipe (sometimes a very personal swipe) at one or more of his pet dislikes. So strong is his rhetoric that I wanted to go immediately to read up on the opposing points of view - he's more than critical of people like Chomsky and Pinker, from time to time he's contemptuous. There's too much raw emotion just below the surface of his treatment of the above-mentioned C&P for his arguments to sound authentic, and that's a pity because he covers a number of points that I didn't previously know. So I'm glad that I read it, but I'm not sure how much I've profited from the experience.

The sections that make me glad I read it? well, wherever his book sticks to doing what it says on the tin. That is, he unwinds the extraordinary ways and byways of English grammar, often introducing the viewpoint of non-native English speakers from which to look anew at those implicit rules and customs that we natives acquire without being aware of them. His discussion of - for instance - the rules for ordering English adjectives is brilliant; it's like one of those articles about number theory that makes one question the essence of 1, 2, +, and = while at the same time assuring the reader that some serious meaning remains nonetheless and that it's worthwhile to ask the questions. When the author wants to be clear, and/or entertaining, he succeeds almost all the time. For that alone, the book is very nourishing.

Which makes me wonder why his editor didn't ask him to tone down his attacks on his bêtes noires, or at least acknowledge the evidence in their favour.
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Format: Hardcover
What a splendid book this is. Intellectually rigorous without being intimidatingly highbrow, genuinely amusing without being trite or trivial, it successfully treads a line between 'original academic thought' on one hand and 'ideal stocking filler' on the other. To the very best of my knowledge, there is no other book in this or indeed any area that is equally fascinating whether discussing Ferdinand de Saussure's relativist theory of linguistics or a local newspaper's report on floodlight failure at Raith Rovers.
The thing I like best about this book is its basic premise - the very liberal (and liberating) idea that, whatever anyone may have told you, there is no such thing as grammar which is 'right' or 'wrong'. As if to exemplify the author's laissez faire attitude to all things linguistic, perhaps my favourite moment of all comes on page 111: the use - in the middle of a complex but fascinating passage on the semiotics of language - of the entirely made up word 'breakthroughingly'.
'Right' and 'wrong' grammar may not exist, but 'good' and 'bad' writing do, and English For The Natives is a very, very well written book indeed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I agree with other reviewers who have found the grammar sections wholly unenlightening and the brief history of diachronic language change superficial to the point of irrelevance.

However, I thought that the section on language acquisition provided a superb and engagingly partial critique of the current language wars being fought by rival camps and campuses of academic linguists; this chapter alone merits the four stars.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I saw a review of this in The Guardian. It is a clearly written. no fuss and witty look at linguistics. You don't need to be a professor or know anything to appreciate the democratic approach of this writer. And that we are all experts in our language. I read it on Kindle and had to get it in solid form. It is a book I will go back to time and time again
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was put onto this by a French teacher of French. It was amazing and sorted out several grammatical points I had wondered about for years. Concise and - would you believe it - funny! Thoroughly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had expected this to be a straightforward refutation of tracts like "Eats, shoots and leaves" (Lynne Truss), which, in part, it is. Overall, however, it is a bit of a ragbag. A well written, quite well researched and most interesting ragbag, but a ragbag nonetheless. The chapter on how young children learn their native language, for instance, is useful but not entirely relevant; whilst the one on the history of human language in general, with particular reference to the Indo-European family is, I suggest, wholly out of place here.
The rest of the book, 9 out of 11 chapters, is an excellent English grammar, but not for native-speakers. As the book's own sub-title says, it's the grammar that English-speakers already know, but don't know they know. They don't need to be taught it, either at school or in Mr Ritchie's book, however interesting it may be for geeks like me to have it all set out in print. For foreigners, on the other hand, this could be a superb English primer.
So what can one say? Is this the right book with the wrong title, or the wrong book with the right title? Or, as I am more inclined to believe, a sort of pantomime horse of a book that was put together from bits of other books and/or essays which, for reasons best known to the author, never saw the light of day in their originally intended form. Or, more frighteningly, are they a collection of defunct, out-of-print pieces that Mr Ritchie soldered together and brought back to life with a powerful jolt of electricity, a la Dr. Frankenstein? If this latter, then I feel the late Mrs Shelley must shoulder some of the blame.

I tell you this: it's a very shaky 4-star job!

Douglas
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