• RRP: £9.99
  • You Save: £5.99 (60%)
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
Comment: SUPER FAST SHIPPING, DISPATCHED SAME DAY FROM UK WAREHOUSE. NO NEED TO WAIT FOR BOOKS FROM USA. GREAT BOOK IN GOOD OR BETTER CONDITION. MORE GREAT BARGAINS IN OUR ZSHOP.
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

4.1 out of 5 stars 391 customer reviews

See all formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price
New from Used from
Kindle Edition
"Please retry"
Paperback
"Please retry"
£4.00
£2.75 £0.38
Textbook Binding
"Please retry"
£22.10
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
£4.00 FREE Delivery in the UK on orders with at least £10 of books. In stock. Dispatched from and sold by Amazon. Gift-wrap available.
click to open popover

Special Offers and Product Promotions


Frequently Bought Together

  • Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language
  • +
  • Troublesome Words
  • +
  • Shakespeare: The World as a Stage
Total price: £17.59
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 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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (391 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Review

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

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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 66 people found this helpful. 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
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).

Quote:
"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.

Sorry
29 Comments 188 people found this helpful. 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
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I got to about page 3 before reading the following: "In Russia there are no native words for efficiency, challenge, engagement ring, have fun, or take care [all cited in The New York Times, June 18, 1989]. English, as Charlton Laird has noted, is the only language that has, or needs, books of synonyms like Roget’s Thesaurus".
As a native Russian speaker, I can tell you that neither of these statements is true.
I don't think I'll bother reading the rest of the book. Mostly because I don't know what other facts the author (whom I used to admire) failed to check.
Comment 15 people found this helpful. 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
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.
1 Comment 23 people found this helpful. 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
Format: Paperback
The book is very entertaining, but it also suffers from a lot of arrogance and ignorance. He is so proud of English e.g. being able to form compound words like "boathouse". He also mentions that all other Germanic languages can do the same thing. But then he continues by saying that only English can distinguish between "boathouse" and "houseboat"; the other languages cannot. Even if he does not mean any other language (I don't know if he checked if Korean or Japanese can make compound words), even if he only talks about Germanic languages, he is wrong. German can of course also distinguish between "Bootshaus" und "Hausboot". As far as German is concerned (my mother tongue), at least half of the examples he uses in his book are unfortunately just plainly wrong. And somehow English is always better than any other language in his book. That seems very arrogant to me, especially since the majority of examples of other languages are taken from European languages. There are a few more languages than that on this planet, which is something he just ignores.
Comment 27 people found this helpful. 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



Feedback