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. (It's not just C&P that he dislikes. His dislike of pseudo-grammatical preciousness and prescriptiveness is in itself much too prescriptive for comfort). In particular, the book's last chapter sets out to explore structure but spends most of its effort telling us about fights amongst the various practitioners of Linguistics (his capital initial). It made me feel uncomfortable, not least because he'd already demonstrated that he could write a really illuminating book up till this point. I didn't like his excursions into Cato the Elder and his regular 'Chomsky Delenda Est.'
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.
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
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.
This book came as an eye-opener to me. I thought I knew a fair bit about English (I not only speak it like a native, I am a native!) but Mr Ritchie showed me how much more I know than I realized. He treats the subject with wit and his examples are themselves a source of amusement. He tends to grind on a bit about academic squabbles but I can forgive that for the plusses he gives us.
The Kindle edition, which I used, suffers from a slight problem in tat the tables which are used now and then do not always retain the proper formatting.
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.