Book Review: Mother Tongue – The Story of the English Language

‘The complexities of the English language are such that even native speakers cannot always communicate effectively…’

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Up until fairly recently I was as ignorant of Bill Bryson as I am of candelabras, the music of Stormzy or upside-down cake (to pick three random things about which I know absolutely nothing). After haphazardly stumbling across his excellent book about big Bill Shakespeare, I eventually found my way to reading perhaps his most famous work Notes from a Small Island. It was a special kind of divine providence that resulted in yet another of his works being on the reading list for a training course I am currently embroiled in…

English language is the element of studying and teaching English that I have always struggled to warm to. The clinical focus on subject terminology and counting syllables feels too close to Science or Maths – two subjects that inspire nothing but dread in my cold, black heart. It is time to bite the bullet with language and Mother Tongue is a great jumping off point.

Bryson covers the inception of the English language as well as its rise across the globe, all the while throwing in the odd eccentricity and fun fact – all delivered in his usual droll style. If you buy in to Bryson’s tone (as I do), then he can make anything interesting, and I can honestly say there wasn’t a single moment of Mother Tongue that I didn’t enjoy.

While on the surface, it may appear that Bryson’s take on the English language is only for enthusiasts of either Bryson himself or the language in which he speaks, there is actually something for everyone here.

With Mother Tongue. Bill Bryson has taken a dry and intimidating subject and made it universal. The guy’s a genius. And while you are reading one of his books, he kinda makes you feel like a genius too…

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