THE MOTHER TONGUE by Bill Bryson

The monthly library book club assignment was to read “something” by Bill Bryson.  I had read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid before Christmas last year and had enjoyed it immensely.  Since his Road to Little Dribbling had just come out and was on the best seller list at that time, I read it too. Although Iwould have enjoyed it even more had I read the book it was based on (revisiting small, out-of-the-way places in the UK previously visited 20 years before), I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson’s unique style of writing and found myself laughing out loud in spots.

For the book club assignment, a friend lent me her copy of The Mother Tongue:English and How It Got That Way, knowing that I was an English and Literature major in school and telling me she knew I would enjoy it. The book was published in 1990,but is as timely today as when originally written. The first four chapters were two undergraduate classes–The History of the English Language, and Linguistics–revisited.  And, unfortunately, they were as boring as the courses.  HOWEVER, things changed rapidly thereafter, and much for the better! The idiosyncrasies  and contradictions of the English language and the contrast between British English and American English, as well as Good English and Bad English (a chapter holds this title) were laugh out loud funny.  Often my husband gave me a “look” like “What in the world are you reading?” and I would be forced to read aloud a passage.  He would politely give a chuckle of appreciation.

This book is meticulously and scholarly researched (Both bibliography and index are flawless and extensive.), and yet it holds appeal to more than scholars of English or “word-a-philes” like myself.  It’s something you can put down and pick up easily, and one is bound to find something that tickles his funny-bone.