Genre: Arts, History & Current Affairs
Published: 1 August 1990
Publisher: Penguin

Mother Tongue

by Bill Bryson


In this hymn to the mother tongue, Bill Bryson examines how a language “treated for centuries as the inadequate and second-rate tongue of peasants” has now become the undisputed global language (more people learn English in China than live in the USA). He explains how the words shampoo, sofa, slogan, OK and rowdy (and others drawn from over fifty languages) got into our dictionaries and how the major dictionaries were created. He explores the countless varieties of English – from American to Australian, from Creole to Cockney rhyming slang – and the perils of marketing brands with names like Pschitt and Super Piss. With entertaining sections on the oddities of swearing and spelling, spoonerisms and Scrabble, and a consideration of what we mean by ‘good English’, MOTHER TONGUE is one of the most stimulating books yet written on this endlessly engrossing subject.

"Not only fascinating but extremely funny" - Angus Deayton
"The sort of linguistics I like, anecdotal, full of revelations, and with not one dull paragraph" - Ruth Rendell, Sunday Times
"A gold mine of language-anecdote, information, curiosity. A suprise on every page... enthralling"
- Observer
"Delightful, amusing and provoking... A joyful celebration of our wonderful language, which is packed with curiosities and enlightenment on every page" - Sunday Express
"A delightful survey - though with its good humour, wealth of anecdote, and boyish enthusiasm, 'romp' would be a better word." - David Crystal