A History of the English Language by Michael D.C. Drout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Dare I admit that two of my favorite books are on Linguistics and Advanced Grammar? I have to confess, I love this book as well as another book by Professor Drout: Understanding Grammar for Powerful Communication (The Modern Scholar: Way with Words, Vol. 3) These books are absolutely fascinating and I could listen to them over and over, there is so much information in them. Professor Drout takes what could be a boring subject and turns it into something humorous and interesting.
This isn't the stale old grammar from high school, although I did like that pretty well too. This is about why we have "ring, rang and rung" when the rule is "walk, walked and walked." It's about how words show their tenses in different languages and how they showed their tenses in the precursors of our modern English. Who would have thought that the way make a verb past was to move the position of the tongue in the mouth instead of adding "ed." Just notice where your tongue and lips are when you say "sing, sang and sung." Why do we have what we call "irregular verbs? They were part of an earlier version of our language.
Even more amazing is the story of the development of language. We are so comfortable with our language and tend to think of other languages as odd when they deviate from ours. Professor Drout starts with some monkeys who have 3 different screams, one for each of their predators. Is that really language? It's a beginning. The monkey brain is too small for adjectives, but I think that the desperation in their voices told a whole lot about whether the predator was especially large and close.
Then Professor Drout takes apart the way children learn language and especially how they learn the grammar of the languages around them. At first children over generalize, but around age 2 they start talking in sentences that are arranged grammatically. Where do they get that ability? It is almost as if they have a grammar gene. We laugh at sentences like "I goed home," but the child is using the grammar he has internalized. No one tells him that the subject usually goes first in a sentence and that you form the past by adding "ed."
Every society, no matter how remote, has language and their language has a grammar that is amazingly similar to all the other languages. Some languages use position in the sentence to indicate the subject, the verb and the direct object, but other languages use word forms, just the way we use the tenses in verbs. Suppose Paul is the subject of the sentence. In some languages, he might be called Paulo with the "o" ending signifying that he is the subject of the sentence. I just made that up, but you get the idea.
The last part of the book deals with terms and accents in our speech. He poses the question of whether you say "soda" or "pop" and what your answer tells about you. He links the accents of the early settlers to a region in the country they emigrated from, explaining the differences in accents from state to state in the US, and gives a history lesson of language.
I probably haven't convinced many people that this is a captivating book, but maybe someone will get the audio book from their library or Audible and enjoy this fascinating subject.
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