It's a fun book, and he's refreshingly pro-Celtic.
Essentially, he argues that what he calls the 'irrelevant 'do'' (or
something similar) in sentences of the kind:
1. Did I see you?
are the same as, and probably due to, the structure which is present in
Welsh, where the same sentence could be rendered:
2. Wnes i dy weld di?
with the preterite of 'gwneud' (vn: 'doing') as an auxilliary.
He argues that this use of 'do' is so rare not only in European languages
but also in the world that its presence in English must be the effect of
influence from British.
At least that's what I remember from reading it quickly a few weeks ago (and
I'm far from home at the moment and will be for a week or so, so can't check
his terms or revisit the finer points of the argument).
2009/3/15 Dennis King <[log in to unmask]>
> _Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English_ by John
> reviewed today in the New York Times:
> "He points out that English has what he calls "kinks" in its grammar,
> qualities that are not shared by any of its relatives in the Germanic family
> of languages, but which do exist in a number of Celtic ones...."
> And from a reader review at Amazon.com :
> He pays as much attention to history as to linguistics, and presents
>> evidence that large numbers of Celts were not exterminated by the small
>> numbers of Vikings who invaded and eventually settled in the northern and
>> eastern part of England, the Danelaw. He demonstrates that English (unlike
>> every other Germanic language) has grammatical features in common with
>> Celtic languages--for instance, the "meaningless do" ("Do we eat apples?")
>> and using gerunds (like "using" in "I'm using a gerund") as a normal present
> What is the deal with the supposed Celtic origin of "do" in questions?
> (Obviously I haven't laid hands on the book yet.)