Book – Mother Tongue
Author – Bill Bryson
Year – 1990
Genre – History of Language
Pages – 244
Recommended by Colin Simpson (about ten years ago!)
When I was at school, my English teacher, Mr Simpson, recommended to us many books. As he is one of the most well read men I know, if he picked any out, then I considered them to be important reads. Over the years, I have read Three Men In A Boat, have started the Discworld series, and now, as I take my first steps towards becoming an English teacher myself (yes, this blog has gone some of the way to inspiring a career change), I thought I should read the last of the books that I remember him recommending to me at school, Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue.
Mother Tongue is a history of the English language. Looking at its roots, through the different influences that other languages have had on it, to the growth of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, on to the formation of dictionaries, and the differences of British English and American English, but not ignoring any other dialect or pidgin on the way, this book really has everything. And throughout, it is delivered in Bryson’s signature style, in which even the most complex ideas, or theoretically dull points are made accessible.
There are far to many interesting things to share here, and it is maybe unfair to pick out the choicest ones, as this is a book that definitely falls into the category of a ‘book you should read’, especially if you are a bit of a reading buff, but something I would like to draw attention to is how it has aged in one or two places. The book is only twenty two years old, and spends a long time describing how English has changed over the last thousand or so. But when it talks about how English could change in the future, it starts to suggest things such as the separation of the American and British forms of the language, it talks about Americanisms that currently would not be understood over here, but may do in many many years. I not only knew every one of them, but use them regularly, and would be surprised if many Brits didn’t know them. It all goes to show how quickly the English language changes and adapts, just as the book emphasises.