Mother Tongue: The English Language

Mother Tongue: The English Language

Edition Penguin Reprint 1991. ISBN: 0-14-014305-X. Just light tan to paper edges. Other than that, the new and unread copy remains intact. Immaculate throughout. Text all clean, neat and tight. Prompt dispatch from UKWho 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.

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