I enjoy reading John McWhorter’s books as he writes lucidly about language. His style of writing is very much in the manner of his speech; I can hear him narrating as I read, and I read in the cadence of his speech. That’s enviable. I certainly don’t write as I speak. I speak poorly, I think, thus I write and strive to write well.
In any case, in Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, McWhorter sets how to explain why English is such an exceptional language. His book focuses on grammar, rather than etymology (as many other books do). One of the important causes of English’s distinction is the overlooked impact that Celtic languages had on Old English. He argues many of his colleagues have dismissed this influence and they should take a second look. To the extent this layman can understand his case, I would say it’s a compelling one.
McWhorter also covers the notions that English is easy to learn for non-native speakers and that language shapes culture. He finishes the book with the intriguing idea that Proto-Germanic is unique among the Indo-European language families as English is unique among the Germanic languages. But why and by who? Just as McWhorter contends that Celtic languages influenced Old English grammar, he finds tantalizing, though by no means case-closed, evidence that Semetic languages influenced Proto-Germanic.
All in all, a casual, quick read that I highly recommend to those who wish to learn more about the history of English.
Have you read it? What do you think?