Cover image for The mother tongue : English and how it got that way
The mother tongue : English and how it got that way
Bryson, Bill.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : W. Morrow, 1990.
Physical Description:
270 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE1072 .B76 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PE1072 .B76 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PE1072 .B76 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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A history of the English language written in a non-technical manner for a general audience. Bryson begins with language's Neanderthal origins and goes on the describe the key people and events that have shaped English into its modern form and character. Annotation(c) 2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Author Notes

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa on December 8, 1951. In 1973, he went backpacking in England, where he eventually decided to settle. He wrote for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent, as well as supplementing his income by writing travel articles.

He moved back to the United States in 1995. His first travel book, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, was published in 1989. His other books include I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson's African Diary, A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Walk About, and Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, the Genius of the Royal Society. A Walk in the Woods was adapted into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

Bryson's titles, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, Notes from a Small Island and Neither Here Nor There made the New York Times bestseller list in 2016.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Bryson approaches his subject with verve. Opening gleefully by quoting nonsensical directions translated from Japanese into English, he goes on to discuss how English, in spite of its many baffling traits, has become the international language of business and science. Bryson glides from a historical summary of linguistics to discussions of quirky names, swearing, dialects, meaning shifts, and how people tend to "compress and mangle words." He reports on attempts at creating artificial languages such as Esperanto and notes that translation is a costly and error-prone industry. Never technical and always entertaining, Bryson, a true word lover, offers a cascade of examples of the vagaries of language. A fascinating subject, deftly handled. Bibliography; to be indexed. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Bryson's blend of linguistic anecdotes and Anglo-Saxon cultural history proves entertaining but superficial. ``While his historical review is thorough. . . he mostly reiterates conventional views about English's structural superiority,'' said PW. ``He retells old tales with fresh verve . . . but becomes sloppy when matters of rhetoric and grammar arise.'' (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-- Bryson traces the English language from the Neanderthal man of 30,000 years ago to the present. Interestingly, he contrasts the language as it developed simultaneously in various locations. He also presents examples of the evolution of words and their spellings. The book is well researched and informative; the thorough index will aid novices in the exploration of the language.-- Diane Goheen, Topeka West High School, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.