Books of 2017, #15: The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, by Bill Bryson

Even after my mild disappointment with the tone of his last book, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island, which struck me as often sharp or even mean-spirited, I still have an affection for Bill Bryson. What better way to guarantee a more pleasant encounter, then to go back to the beginning (almost) to The Mother Tongue.

So I’ll say at the outset that I have no idea how much of the content of this book is still considered…correct. I mean, like all of Bryson’s books (that I’ve read, at least), it’s a mostly coherent-ish narrative drawing a line through a metric ton of facts, and all I can really speak with authority about is the value of the narrative part.

And the narrative is pretty interesting—English as a language is clearly a bit of a mutt, and seems poised to go and have even more puppies with more partners in the future; there’s no end in sight.

Even more interesting, I think (and something that almost certainly wasn’t clear when Bryson first wrote the book in 1990), is that there’s a reasonable chance that it will continue to be more or less a single language, because the Intertubes provide such unprecedented opportunity for groups with nothing in common geographically to nonetheless interact—in effect, to hold a dialog about what the language will become.

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.