Hot Best Seller

The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language

Availability: Ready to download

English is understood by around two thousand million people across the world. Yet it was very nearly wiped out in its early years. Melvyn Bragg explores the story of the English language - from its beginnings as a minor Germanic dialect to its position today as a truly established global language.


Compare

English is understood by around two thousand million people across the world. Yet it was very nearly wiped out in its early years. Melvyn Bragg explores the story of the English language - from its beginnings as a minor Germanic dialect to its position today as a truly established global language.

30 review for The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    When reading this review, please bear in mind that I have a doctorate in Linguistics with a specialty in history of English and sociolinguistics (also schizophrenic speech--which may be relevant here if Bragg is as delusional as he sounds). Bragg says that Anglo Saxon intended to become the most dominant language in the world. Of course, Anglo Saxon was a Germanic dialect in the 7th century, a declined language and totally unrecognizable as English unless one is taught it by a trained scholar. In When reading this review, please bear in mind that I have a doctorate in Linguistics with a specialty in history of English and sociolinguistics (also schizophrenic speech--which may be relevant here if Bragg is as delusional as he sounds). Bragg says that Anglo Saxon intended to become the most dominant language in the world. Of course, Anglo Saxon was a Germanic dialect in the 7th century, a declined language and totally unrecognizable as English unless one is taught it by a trained scholar. In any event, languages don't have intentions, are neither weak or strong, ambitious or lazy. They don't bide their time or loot treasures from other languages, as he claims Early Middle English did from Norman French. It's because Anglo Saxon was willing to take in words from other languages that made it grow. Bragg also says that it permitted new words to be made up. Let me get this straight, Mr. Bragg. Pray tell me how a language tells a speaker to feel free to coin a word? Bragg's "biography" of English pictures its speakers as being in the grip of a language which dictates what its speakers do and don't do. This is arrant nonsense. Individual speakers and social groupings within a community decide how to use language and what they deem "correct" All languages are constructed so that new words can be invented.. There are unused sound combinations in every language. Bleestuk, strimet, goojimat: they all could become new words in English, but "mbwonu" couldn't although it could be in Swahili. All languages can also make up new words by compounding words already in their vocabularies: hairbrush, hairdryer, bedspread, lifelong. All languages can borrow words from othet languages and, when they do, they change the sounds to fit their phonetic rules. When the Japanese borrowed "baseball" from American, they pronounced it "basuhboru" All languages can make up new words by taking morphemes, the smallest unit of language with meaning or grammar function, and combining them, like "telephone, television, uncomfortable, unbelievable." One final point: England didn't become French speaking after 1066 because only a few French noblemen settled in England, along with their chefs. Except for a few storekeepers, no other French speakers moved in, so there was no way ordinary English speakers could have learned French even if tbey wanted to. It had nothing to do with the strength of English. It had everything to do with the social situation in the British Isles.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bionic Jean

    Melvyn Bragg is a doyen of British broadcasting, perhaps best known for his previous work with ITV as the editor and presenter of the the weekly Arts programme "The South Bank Show" for over thirty years. He also presents radio programmes for the BBC, including a long-running radio discussion series called "In Our Time", exploring the history of ideas. From his very humble origins in North Yorkshire, he has consistently combined a career in broadcasting with one in writing. He is the Chancellor Melvyn Bragg is a doyen of British broadcasting, perhaps best known for his previous work with ITV as the editor and presenter of the the weekly Arts programme "The South Bank Show" for over thirty years. He also presents radio programmes for the BBC, including a long-running radio discussion series called "In Our Time", exploring the history of ideas. From his very humble origins in North Yorkshire, he has consistently combined a career in broadcasting with one in writing. He is the Chancellor of Leeds University, a literary prize-winner, a regular contributor to "The Times" and other quality newspapers, and is a Labour life peer. When in the House of Lords he takes a keen interest in the Arts and education. Alongside his fiction and novel-writing, Melvyn Bragg has also written several works of non-fiction, such as "The Book of Books", about the King James Bible, and this one, The Adventure of English. In 2015, The Adventure of English became a New York Times bestseller. The Adventure of English was a British television series about the history of the English language, first broadcast on ITV in 2003. It was both written and presented by Melvyn Bragg. It ran for 8 hour-long episodes, and was accompanied by both radio programmes and this companion book, in which the author expands his original concept into 24 chapters. Melvyn Bragg explains his impetus for the book, "The way in which a few tribal and local German dialects spoken by a hundred and fifty thousand people grew into the English language spoken by about one and a half billion people has all the characterisics of a tremendous adventure. That is the story of this book." Melvyn Bragg is not a linguistic scholar, but his credentials for writing such a book are worthy, "My own starting point was a childhood in which I spoke a heavily accented dialect based on an Old Norse vocabulary unintelligible to all my teachers at the grammar school, for which I had to adopt Standard English or what was commonly known as BBC English. Also in the dialect I spoke there was a seam of Romany, and the whole of the language was still based squarely in the world of agriculture, a world outside the city wall." Areas such as this, which interest a general reader but which academics may find difficult to popularise, lend themselves well to Melvyn Bragg's approach. He is scholarly, without assuming much knowledge of the subject or its terminology in his reader. His original eight programmes were entitled, "Birth of a Language", "English Goes Underground", "The Battle for the Language of the Bible", "This Earth, This Realm, This England", "English in America", "Speaking Proper", "The Language of Empire" and "Many Tongues Called English, One World Language". It covered an enormous span, and made interesting viewing, with documentary film to accompany Bragg's script, and specific important words moving across the screen in various depths, sizes and directions and in different fonts. It has been said that the origins of this history as a TV series are rather too evident, and certainly reading it one can hear the author's voice. Perhaps at times, it does read as if it is the script for an interesting talk or lecture. However, it is the only one of its kind I have discovered, written from this unique angle of an adventure story, or the biography of English as if it were a living being. Perhaps the closest would be Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way". The Adventure of English follows the history of the English language from its modest beginnings around 500 AD as a minor Germanic dialect to its rise as a truly established global language. It covers not only the vast variety of different versions of English we use, but also how this all came about. English is by nature ever-changing, and ingeniously assimilates other cultures. As a collective work of millions of people throughout the ages, it is truly democratic. “The Internet took off in English and although there are now fifteen hundred languages on the Internet, seventy percent of it is still in English.” Today, English is the chosen language of world finance, medicine, and the Internet, and understood by nearly two billion people world-wide, yet it could so easily have been wiped out in its early years. Melvyn Bragg shows us how this remarkable story happened, starting with the early Anglo-Saxon tribes. He describes Old English; the language which was to become English, arriving in the fifth century with Germanic tribes as the Roman empire began to collapse. Melvyn Bragg describes English in organic terms, as a "subtle and ruthless" survivor, defeating competing languages over the next three centuries. Of the indigenous Celtic language, we only now have about two dozen words left. At the end of the eighth century the Vikings arrived, and a century later the Danes ruled most of England. King Alfred — Alfred the Great's — stubborn resistance to them was linguistic as well as military. When he defeated the Danes at the Battle of Ethandune, Melvyn Bragg says, "Alfred had saved the language". Alfred promoted a translation of works from Latin into English. Only about 150 words were incorporated from Old Norse into an Old English vocabulary of some 25,000 words. Almost all the 100 most common words in English today, are from Old English. "They", "their" and "them" all come from Old Norse. The first word to come from French comes in at number 76 — and is "number". Melvyn Bragg lists these 100 most commonly used English words, and we see that the first noun is number 30 in the list, and it is "word". Clearly we discuss speaking and writing — and write about speaking and writing — much of the time. We are also concerned with how much the language changes, and often view it as deteriorating in some way, yet this is the nature of language, to adapt. We feel that we are knowledgeable about language change, and some people are quite judgemental as to what is "correct". Yet "correctness" fluctuates and changes all the time. Not many of us are privy to a detailed history of the English language. For a long time it has been a specialist area of study, separated in universities even from the study of literature. Apart from a few comments about Chaucer's bawdy vernacular or Shakespeare's large and creative vocabulary, for the general reader, it remains an unknown territory. Melvyn Bragg does his best to cover the history of English over the past 1,500 years. The next major historical event in England was the Norman invasion of 1066, in which the country became divided between the French-speaking rulers and the English-speaking peasants. This event transformed the English language forever. For over 300 years French became the language of power, spoken by royalty, aristocrats and high-powered officials. Some of these people could not speak English at all. During this time, thousands of French words entered the English language. English did survive, but was to change enormously over the next two or three centuries. The black death of 1348, killed almost a third of the population, and weakened the hold of Latin among the educated, “In 1362, for the first time in almost three centuries, English was acknowledged as a language of official business. Since the Conquest, court cases had been heard in French. Now the law recognised that too few people understood that language, perhaps because many of the educated lawyers, like the clergy, had died in the plague. From now on, it was declared, cases could be pleaded, defended, debated and judged in English.” By the time Richard II addressed Wat Tyler's army, during the peasants' revolt of 1381, he did so in English, “English was the language of protest and protesting its right to be heard and taken account of before the highest in the land. And the highest of the land used it in 1381, to chop down the revolt of thousands of English speakers.” At around the same time, English replaced French in grammar schools. The trend continued. In 1399, Henry IV deposed Richard, and spoke in English at his own coronation, the first monarch since 1066 to do so. When his son, Henry V, came to power, court documents would also begin to be written in English. We follow English history via the kind of anecdotes found in novels. Melvyn Bragg has described the arrival of such early literary masterpieces as the Old English epic poem "Beowulf" and now we have Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales". With Chaucer, English was developing into Middle English, and the language of Chaucer was one of the regional types. Melvyn Bragg says that Geoggrey Chaucer was as remarkable for the variety of his language, as he was for his characters and stories. At that time, "fine" would have rhymed with present-day "seen", "cow" with "moo", "make" with "park", and so on. This is commonly referred to as the "great vowel shift", which occurred between the late 14th and late 16th centuries. In this process the long vowels in English mostly became the sounds that they remain today. Partly as a result of the great vowel shift, English afterwards is accessible in a way which Middle English is not. We find that Renaissance poetry sounds familiar, whereas Chaucer sounds strange to our ears. There were over five hundred ways of spelling the word "through", and the word "people" could be spelled "peple", "pepule", "pepul", "pepull", "pepulle", "pepille", "pepil", "pepylle", "pepyll", "peeple", "peopel", "poepull", "poeple", "poepul", "puple", "pupile", "pupill", "pupyll", "pupul", "peuple", or "pople". During Chaucer's lifetime, the Oxford scholar John Wycliffe was organising the translation of the Bible into English, producing hundreds of manuscript copies, and promoting its dissemination by Lollard preachers. (The name "Lollard"derives from "lollaerd" or "mumbler". But they termed themselves "Christian Brethren".) It was only in the 15th century, with the arrival of printing, that there could be anything approaching a standard English. The Bible was poised to be the most powerful influence on the language, and its most important translator was William Tyndale. Chapter 9 is entirely devoted to "William Tyndale's Bible". One of the heroes of Melvyn Bragg's "adventure", Tyndale did not doggedly follow Latin, unlike Wycliffe, but returned to the Bible's original Greek and Hebrew. Nowadays the Church of England more commonly uses the King James Bible of 1611, but Melvyn Bragg argues that Tyndale's English translation often seems more direct. For example, in the King James Bible, the serpent says to Eve, "Ye shall not surely die". Tyndale's translation says simply, "Tush ye shall not die". Hundreds of Biblical phrases are commonplace sayings in modern English, such as "the apple of his eye" or "filthy lucre". Even "Let there be light" comes from Tyndale's translation. “The English Bible has often been called a preacher’s Bible. Written to be spoken, written to spread the word in the language of the land, a cause for which Wycliffe and Tyndale and hundreds of other English Christians had lived and died.” Melvyn Bragg tells of Henry VIII's battles with the Church over bootleg Bibles. He reacted against the Catholic church's monopoly over the common people's access to it, “Church attendance was compulsory — the service was a remote affair. The whole emphasis was on the mystery of it, the priests like a secret society, the Latin words so awesome in their ancient verity that, although some phrases would have stuck over the years, the whole intention was to impress and to subdue and not to enlighten. There was of course no English Hymnal, and no Book of Common Prayer. You were at the mercy of the priests. Only they were allowed to read the word of God and they did even that silently. A bell was rung to let the congregation know when the priest had reached the important bits. The priest stood not as a guide to the Bible but as its guardian and as a guardian against common believers. They would not be allowed to enter into the Book.” In 1533 the pope excommunicated Henry VIII because of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. By 1536, Henry had broken with Rome completely, and he used this chance to seize the church's assets in England, and declare the Church of England as the established church, with himself as its head. His was the first authorised version of the Bible, entitled the "Great Bible", written in 1539, to be read aloud in the church services. The work was overseen by Thomas, Lord Cromwell, Henry directing the clergy to create, "one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it". The "Great Bible" was based on Tyndale's Bible, with the remaining books of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha added. With the arrival of Shakespeare, Melvyn Bragg comments, “Shakespeare shoved into bed together words that scarcely knew each other before, had never even been introduced.” Shakespeare contributed about 2000 new words to the English language, influencing and changing it for ever. “Over four hundred years ago, Shakespeare had a vocabulary of at least twenty-one thousand different words: some have estimated that with the combination of words, this could have reached thirty thousand. Comparisons are entertaining: the King James Bible of 1611 used about ten thousand different words. The average educated man today, more than four hundred years on from Shakespeare with the advantage of the hundreds of thousands of new words that have come in since his time, has a working vocabulary of less than half that of Shakespeare.” By the 1700s, English was the common language of all, no matter what their station in English society. People had started to register that language does not stay the same, and object to the ways in which English was changing. Melvyn Bragg records that in 1712, the writer Jonathan Swift worried that English was decaying into modishness and incoherence. He seemed to feel that English was becoming increasingly corrupted, and showed anxiety about new words such as "mob" and "banter". Remembering this fact from history should perhaps help people today, who constantly worry about "correct" usage or spelling. Even earlier, Shakespeare had not decided on a consistent way to spell his own name, as evidenced by the handful of signatures in his handwriting which are extant. Our ways of spelling are more standardised, but language itself will always remain fluid and responsive to shifts in usage. There was a need for a good dictionary, and dictionaries of this period were unsatisfactory, so in June 1746 a group of London booksellers commissioned Dr. Samuel Johnson to write a dictionary. Dr. Johnson thought it would take three years to write, but in fact it took him nearly nine years to complete the work. It was published in 1755 and remains among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language, only surpassed by the "Oxford English Dictionary" 173 years later. Another big shift in the English language came with the spread of English to North America. These three chapters are a fascinating part of the book. English expanded into new areas with the songs of the Creole slaves, and with the language and story telling of the 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier and politician, Davy Crockett. With Lewis and Clark's expedition West, hundreds of new terms were coined as the explorers discovered flora and fauna which had previously been unknown. These new dialects and tongues all diversified and achieved rules and idioms of their own, whilst remaining English. “America became very confident in its own English language. A witty resolution was proposed in the House of Representatives in 1820 suggesting they educate the English in their own language: Whereas the House of Representatives in common with the people of America is justly proud of its admirable native tongue and regards this most expressive and energetic language as one of the best of its birthrights . . . Resolved, therefore, that the nobility and gentry of England be courteously invited to send their elder sons and such others as may be destined to appear as politic speakers in Church and State to America for their education . . . [and after due instruction he suggested that they be given] certificates of their proficiency in the English tongue.” After the split in the development of an American English in the 19th century, Melvyn Bragg moves on to the role of English in India, and in Australia, in another part of his linguistic "adventure". So far we have seen that English incorporates elements of Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Hindi, and Gullah, covering a huge range of countries and peoples. We have seen that it is also a story of adaptation; of shifts in power, religion, and trade. It also chronicles, responds to and reflects people and how they have changed — and continue to change. The final chapter "Where now?" considers the place of English in the future. Melvyn Bragg discusses street slang, texting, and other modern development in English. He wonders where English is going, and muses on whether textspeak and text-messaging will take over, and whether English will go the same way as Latin, becoming a "dead language". Is this to be the future of English? Even in Goodreads we see scant attention sometimes paid to punctuation, and abbreviations are commonplace cuz y'all know thats kinda crazy and i dont c y i shud bover wivit. Perhaps this is an exaggeration. My personal feeling is that there is a huge middle ground. The purpose of punctuation is, after all, clarity, and if we have clarity by other means, then so be it. I personally have no compunction about starting a sentence with "and", "so" or "but", nor about using the Oxford comma. And it is astonishing, after all, to consider that we can communicate world-wide by the touch of a button and through the written word, even if sometimes our nuances of expression are misunderstood, in our various varieties of English, the widest spoken language in the world. Some academics have criticised this book on the grounds that it is written by an amateur. The idea of language being mostly vocabulary is misinformed, they say. Melvyn Bragg's book is full of lists of words, where they came from and when they arrived. He largely ignores changes in syntax, the influence of rhetoric, patterns of formality, or punctuation. Yet I feel that in this he is appealing more to a general reader, and if the text was less chatty about historical events, and included more linguistic detail, it would not be at all the same sort of book. In a similar way, I would have liked to see more about the different types of English spoken in African countries, the Caribbean and in the Indian subcontinent. But I do appreciate that this does not fall so much under the remit of this book. The Adventure of English concentrates mainly on the history of English as spoken and written in what we now call Britain. “English, like water, will find its own level. The language itself through usage and natural selection will see that what is survivable will survive.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    they say don't judge a book by its cover but this book you can judge by its title. it is an adventure. bragg's style makes reading this book almost like reading historical fiction it is an adventure.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    I read, and greatly enjoyed, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English last year, and was a bit worried that The Adventure of English would be highly repetitive. They are, however, very different books, the first being much more philological and the second being cultural. While Bragg's work is generally good and enjoyable, there were some issues. For one thing, there is the notion that the US has fewer distinct accents/dialects than Britain. We have just as many, but because I read, and greatly enjoyed, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English last year, and was a bit worried that The Adventure of English would be highly repetitive. They are, however, very different books, the first being much more philological and the second being cultural. While Bragg's work is generally good and enjoyable, there were some issues. For one thing, there is the notion that the US has fewer distinct accents/dialects than Britain. We have just as many, but because we're a massive country, they're just more spread out. In my city alone there are three common accents belonging to people born in the area, and we DO have regionalisms, thanks very much. Also, Bragg makes the statement that "Americans still love spelling," which is ridiculous, and I can only assume it's based on our National Spelling Bee and the fact that parents push their kids to extremes to win this (much more related to winning than spelling). Then later he made a statement of the early convicts sent to Australia which was the opposite of something in A Commonwealth of Thieves and I trust the specialist book rather more. I think that there was also some very important information that he left out. He relates the word father in numerous European languages to the word in Sanskrit but doesn't mention the consonant shifts which account for the Ps shifting to Fs and Vs. He doesn't mention consonant shifts anywhere in the book and yet expects readers to understand how close father is to the sanskrit (which is really close to pater). This is fun, relatively light non-fiction, not something that's going to bring in many readers who know much about the developments and splits of language, so I think it should have been included. Also, he could have summarized it in a few sentences, so it's not like it wouldn't have really lengthened the book to include that titbit. It IS a generally good book, with lots of interesting information and perspectives (though some are questionable), but I think it needed a little more information about language that's not just cultural/societal.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tweedledum

    This is not the first book I have read about the history of English but it is probably the best in its depth and breadth. Bragg has done a magnificent job in tying in both the early relatively linear history with the latter geographical explosion. I took this in first as an audiobook which really was a great way of experiencing the book especially as my knowledge of Anglo Saxon is just about zero and my ability to read Chaucer in the original Middle English not much better. But then I realised I This is not the first book I have read about the history of English but it is probably the best in its depth and breadth. Bragg has done a magnificent job in tying in both the early relatively linear history with the latter geographical explosion. I took this in first as an audiobook which really was a great way of experiencing the book especially as my knowledge of Anglo Saxon is just about zero and my ability to read Chaucer in the original Middle English not much better. But then I realised I really want to be able to use this book as a reference and to revisit for example the time trail of the language. The breadth of history covered by this book is staggering, I was glad that I already had a sound knowledge base to draw on as otherwise some of it might have been overwhelming. The book made me want to return to Bede whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People I read many years ago. It also inspired me to seek out a biography of William Tyndale William Tyndale: A Biography and to revisit Chaucer. But there were surprising stopping places too. I remember being enchanted by my mother reading Nights With Uncle Remus to me in the vernacular but I had not appreciated how unique and important a book this was. Brer Rabbit here I come... Anyone who loves the English Language should read this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ruben

    Oh man, for a language fan like me this is like gardening (for people who love gardening). It's fascinating to trace my words, even these words, back through the centuries watching as they were picked up from different places and in different contexts along the way. What a cool language we speak! How flexible, pliable and bendy our tongue! But seriously, this could easily have been a snooze-a-thon. However, Melvyn Bragg's enthusiasm for this particular linguistic history is contagious, and with Oh man, for a language fan like me this is like gardening (for people who love gardening). It's fascinating to trace my words, even these words, back through the centuries watching as they were picked up from different places and in different contexts along the way. What a cool language we speak! How flexible, pliable and bendy our tongue! But seriously, this could easily have been a snooze-a-thon. However, Melvyn Bragg's enthusiasm for this particular linguistic history is contagious, and with each passing chapter, you come to recognize and appreciate the history embedded in our daily speech. It's like plunging your hands into the dark, rich, life-giving earth, and exploring every root and stem, just celebrating that which still lives and continues to grow. Give me more books like this one, please.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Remittance Girl

    Melvyn Bragg is a broadcaster and a novelist. 'The Adventure of English', is not, as the previous reviewer points out, an academic exploration of the linguistic development of the language, but it makes no pretense of being one. It is, for the most part, a chronological look at the evolution of the language we have come to know as English from a user's perspective. Particularly from a writer's perspective. Many illustrations of his points come in the form of quotations from prose, poetry and Melvyn Bragg is a broadcaster and a novelist. 'The Adventure of English', is not, as the previous reviewer points out, an academic exploration of the linguistic development of the language, but it makes no pretense of being one. It is, for the most part, a chronological look at the evolution of the language we have come to know as English from a user's perspective. Particularly from a writer's perspective. Many illustrations of his points come in the form of quotations from prose, poetry and correspondence. And so it both seeks to describe the history of English at the same time it describes the English of history. As the subtitle suggests, the book anthropomorphizes the language with impunity, in an effort to emphasize the language's ability to transmit culture even as it has absorbed and re-purposed those with which it came into contact. Personally, I liked it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marius van Blerck

    A gem. I listened to the audiobook, superbly narrated by the actor Robert Powell. The book tells the fascinating story of the relentless growth of a polyglot mongrel language, never ashamed to borrow or steal words from every language it encountered. Essentially, that seems to have been its greatest strength, insulating it from attack, and allowing it to evolve into the marvellous tongue of Chaucer, Tindale, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Dickens, Twain, Wodehouse, Waugh and Tolkien, to say nothing of A gem. I listened to the audiobook, superbly narrated by the actor Robert Powell. The book tells the fascinating story of the relentless growth of a polyglot mongrel language, never ashamed to borrow or steal words from every language it encountered. Essentially, that seems to have been its greatest strength, insulating it from attack, and allowing it to evolve into the marvellous tongue of Chaucer, Tindale, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Dickens, Twain, Wodehouse, Waugh and Tolkien, to say nothing of Hunter S Thompson. Melvyn Bragg has written a superb book. My only regret is that he mentioned so few words of South African words, of which trek, veld, impi, assegaai, stoep and indaba are but a few.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Huff

    Loved this book! As the title implies, it is a well detailed "biography" of the English language, from it's shaky, uncertain beginnings to the powerful, ubiquitous language we know today. There is fascinating history here, and I would STRONGLY recommend that you take advantage of this book via the Audible version; the reader does a wonderful job with the many accents and dialects that are involved in the timeline of the English language, and he is unfailingly entertaining as well. Any reader will Loved this book! As the title implies, it is a well detailed "biography" of the English language, from it's shaky, uncertain beginnings to the powerful, ubiquitous language we know today. There is fascinating history here, and I would STRONGLY recommend that you take advantage of this book via the Audible version; the reader does a wonderful job with the many accents and dialects that are involved in the timeline of the English language, and he is unfailingly entertaining as well. Any reader will learn more about the English language than they presently know, and this book makes the learning effortless, informative, and just plain fun!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Msjodi777

    Ok, to begin with, you have to know that I really enjoy learning about where words come from and how language developed, so I was excited when I found this book. The best part of it was that it turned out to be so much more than I expected. Melvyn Bragg really does turn the rise of the English language into an adventure. My only complaint about this book, is that I eye read it on my kindle. This book really needs to be whispersynced (are you listening audible?) so that you can hear the words Ok, to begin with, you have to know that I really enjoy learning about where words come from and how language developed, so I was excited when I found this book. The best part of it was that it turned out to be so much more than I expected. Melvyn Bragg really does turn the rise of the English language into an adventure. My only complaint about this book, is that I eye read it on my kindle. This book really needs to be whispersynced (are you listening audible?) so that you can hear the words from the audiobook while you see them on the page. Seeing them is fine, and you can mostly make out what is being said in the Old English, but hearing them at the same time would be so much better, because they are so musical. Definitely one book that I will be recommending to all of my friends. <><

  11. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    Melvyn Bragg subtitles The Adventure Of English with the intriguing phrase “The Biography of a Language”. He thus implies that the language, specifically English, has a life of its own, setting himself the task of creating both an adventure and a narrative that will convince the reader that the language has both an identity and, to some extent, a personality that identifies an individuality. He succeeds on all counts. The story starts of course with a birth and then unfolds chronologically Melvyn Bragg subtitles The Adventure Of English with the intriguing phrase “The Biography of a Language”. He thus implies that the language, specifically English, has a life of its own, setting himself the task of creating both an adventure and a narrative that will convince the reader that the language has both an identity and, to some extent, a personality that identifies an individuality. He succeeds on all counts. The story starts of course with a birth and then unfolds chronologically throughout the first half of the book, before diverging to examine the different and often parallel geographical manifestations of English in the modern world. These have happened since the dawn of Empire and, as a consequence of their disparate elements and different paths of development, perhaps suggest that English is more of a family than an individual. Amazingly, Melvyn Bragg goes through eleven chapters before considering Shakespeare. The book is thus quite careful in its examination of the origins of the language and its early development. Later on there are three chapters on the language in the United States, one each on Australia, India and the West Indies. We come across a little, perhaps not enough, Singlish from Singapore, and Africa is largely ignored, except for the influence of African languages on English in the Americas. Melvyn Bragg also devotes considerable time to the discussion of accent, pronunciation, dialect and correctness. Obviously each of these areas could have been a lifetime’s work, let alone a book in itself, but Melvyn Bragg succeeds at least in defining the territory and correctly identifying the parts played by snobbishness and social class in the application of labels such as coarse, standard or even correct. A decade and a half ago, I myself managed to astound an American colleague who, having prejudged the length of my “a” asked me to pronounce the word b-a-t-h. He was a New Yorker and was more than surprised when I intoned a sound that rhymed with American math. He had expected, of course, a sound like “barth”. Melvyn Bragg identifies this short “a” with an older version of English, one that predated the strong French influence of the eighteenth century that produced the long “a”, amongst other things, especially amongst the middle classes of southern England. The American settlers, of course, left Britain before this new-fangled foreign influence arrived, so they retained their short “a”, which is of course the correct version. This serves to remind us that whatever we speak in our daily lives and wherever we live, we are perhaps born into a language and the one we adopt as infants becomes part of our very identity. This is just one example of many of interest that appear in The Adventure Of English. Once assembled, these quirks of history really do allow the language to create its own identity. It is thus portrayed as a living, developing entity, constantly changing its appearance whilst many try to hold it fixed. The Adventure Of English by Melvyn Bragg is in no way a comprehensive look at the language, its development and its contemporary manifestations. But is does achieve admirably what it intends to do at the start, which is to create an adventure and present an as yet incomplete biography.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mag

    A delightful, erudite and informative read, even though I happened to spend a whole term studying the history of the English language before. It discusses English of the British Isles with a special place for Welsh and Scottish varieties, of America, Wild West, India, West Indies and Australia. A wonderful book to be read many times, with the following conclusion: ‘An adventure should have an ending but there is no conclusion to the astounding and moving journey of the English language, from its A delightful, erudite and informative read, even though I happened to spend a whole term studying the history of the English language before. It discusses English of the British Isles with a special place for Welsh and Scottish varieties, of America, Wild West, India, West Indies and Australia. A wonderful book to be read many times, with the following conclusion: ‘An adventure should have an ending but there is no conclusion to the astounding and moving journey of the English language, from its small spring to rivers of thought and poetry and science, into oceans of religions and politics, industry and finance and technology, those oceans swept by storms that poured English on to the willing and unwilling alike. It is a language that other languages take on, bend, adapt and grow from, just as English itself from its slow fierce forging in these islands has taken on and been tested by and absorbed many languages. Still it grows.’

  13. 5 out of 5

    Shiloah

    I was completely blown away by this book. I learned so much, growing by leaps and bounds in my understanding of the English language. The nerd in me was captivated throughout the entire book. This is a book that one must own! I highly recommend the audible version as well. I think you will benefit from owning both. This is a book I will reread again and again as there is so much information in it that it will be something that has layers of value. 2019 reading: This book contains so many layers I was completely blown away by this book. I learned so much, growing by leaps and bounds in my understanding of the English language. The nerd in me was captivated throughout the entire book. This is a book that one must own! I highly recommend the audible version as well. I think you will benefit from owning both. This is a book I will reread again and again as there is so much information in it that it will be something that has layers of value. 2019 reading: This book contains so many layers of history and wisdom. I’m also reinspired to read more Shakespeare. He had the vocabulary of four full languages! Charles Dickens has the vocabulary of a dictionary. His vocabulary was second in mention to Shakespeare in size and scope. Both coined words and phrases that are immortalized.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Robin Tobin (On the back porch reading)

    What an interesting paintbox of the colorful creation of words....

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Skretvedt

    Any user of the English language really owes it to themselves, at some point in their lives, to listen carefully to this! It's also available in book form, which I've never read, and was adapted into a multipart TV series for the BBC (also presented in the past on the History International channel). Melvyn Bragg, being also a well-known TV presenter in the UK, presented the TV adaptation himself, and lends much richness to it. For the audio CD version, Robert Powell delivered an unabridged Any user of the English language really owes it to themselves, at some point in their lives, to listen carefully to this! It's also available in book form, which I've never read, and was adapted into a multipart TV series for the BBC (also presented in the past on the History International channel). Melvyn Bragg, being also a well-known TV presenter in the UK, presented the TV adaptation himself, and lends much richness to it. For the audio CD version, Robert Powell delivered an unabridged presentation, and his UK-English tone lends that uniquely British authority and listen-ability. Having no experience with the print form of Bragg's work, I may write from ignorance here, but it seems to me that on a subject that deals so intimately with the evolution of language, it's sound and pronunciation, inflections of dialects, etc.: you simply must work from a version which can be heard audibly. Text on a page of the early and archaic forms which English took, give you no idea for how the language sounded to its users of those times. If you are short on time, I recommend seeking out the BBC/History International multipart TV series. You get a well edited abridgement of the work, with on-screen text presentation of key ideas as well as richly articulated spoken language examples, and a top-notch presentation from Bragg himself. If you've more time, dig into the unabridged audiobook version. Robert Powell gives a superb reading, and it'll last you about 1500 miles by car. As for the book, well if you're doing the audiobook version, the book would likely make a useful reference to see the language's evolution in written form. I, however, worked from a combination of the TV series and the audiobook and am satisfied. Once absorbed, you come to understand how most of us are mere base tinkerers with this vast, expressive, adaptable, irrepressible, powerful: English.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hans

    I really wanted to like this book especially since I enjoyed "Mother Tongue" By Bill Bryson so much. But at times this book has some real low points. I am frustrated by many of the linguistic theories proposed about the future of English and I disagree with most of them. I strongly believe that now that English has become the Language of business it will not only become increasingly difficult to dislodge it as the global language, but the need to learn it to communicate with even non-native I really wanted to like this book especially since I enjoyed "Mother Tongue" By Bill Bryson so much. But at times this book has some real low points. I am frustrated by many of the linguistic theories proposed about the future of English and I disagree with most of them. I strongly believe that now that English has become the Language of business it will not only become increasingly difficult to dislodge it as the global language, but the need to learn it to communicate with even non-native English speakers is becoming a must for anyone who wants to travel. While here in Japan I ran into a guy from Czech Republic who didn't speak Japanese and was getting by using English to get around Japan. In South Korea I watched a business transaction take place between a Korean and a Japanese and they did it in English. The theory that English will branch out and father many splinter groups of English is intriguing but I think it underestimates the idea that the entire purpose of learning English is to communicate with foreigners. Not only that, but global communication and travel has put English in a position unprecedented in History, never has a language been able to reach so many people instantly anywhere in the world. Some may claim that Chinese will be the new International Language, but I don't agree. Chinese is way behind English already in laying a strong foundation across the world. Business, Travel, Science, Global Politics is all done in English. How many places have you been to and seen signs written in Chinese? English has a unique position in the world and it will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future. The only way I can possibly see English being replaced as a global language is through it naturally evolving into some more simplified global English that has a different structure and pronunciation other than it does today.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adam Wiggins

    Popularly-accessible works on linguistics are rare enough that I'm inclined to rate them highly just for existing. This one seems to be an oddball companion to a BBC documentary, but I'll take what I can get. It covers the history of English through its contact with (and typically, battle for domination with) the Celtic language, the Scandinavian languages (during the Danish occupation of Britain), French (during the Norman occupation of Britain). When Britain finally returned to independent rule Popularly-accessible works on linguistics are rare enough that I'm inclined to rate them highly just for existing. This one seems to be an oddball companion to a BBC documentary, but I'll take what I can get. It covers the history of English through its contact with (and typically, battle for domination with) the Celtic language, the Scandinavian languages (during the Danish occupation of Britain), French (during the Norman occupation of Britain). When Britain finally returned to independent rule in the middle ages, English began to emerge as a real language, first by being made the official language of the state by Henry VIII (man, was that guy ever a rabble-rouser), and then by gaining its own literature (Chaucer, then later Shakespear, Dickens, and Austin). English absorbed parts of every language it came into contact with, and then traveled far and wide on the ships of the British empire, with the forks in America and Australia both becoming extremely influential. I found the contributions of cowboy English in the wild west and black / Jazz culture English (the world's first major counter-culture) quite interesting. Part of what makes English so expressive is that it has absorbed so many words from other languages. The large numbers of near synonyms makes it so expressive, since choice between these near-synonymous can add layers of subtlety to a sentence. For example, "start" and "commence" are synonyms, but "commence" lends a tone of formality, ceremony, and significance. This seems to have emerged from the several hundred years of Norman occupation of Britain, when French was the language of government, whereas English was the base and common tongue of the people.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Guy

    A history of the development of the English language from the 5th Century to the present, told as if English was a person and this was its biography. So, this is a good example of why you shouldn't try to turn a "popular science" TV series into a book. The biography device probably works on the screen with an energetic and passionate presenter, but it falls flat when you read it. The passion is still there, but the overall effect is a little juvenile. Add to that the apparent lack of an editor A history of the development of the English language from the 5th Century to the present, told as if English was a person and this was its biography. So, this is a good example of why you shouldn't try to turn a "popular science" TV series into a book. The biography device probably works on the screen with an energetic and passionate presenter, but it falls flat when you read it. The passion is still there, but the overall effect is a little juvenile. Add to that the apparent lack of an editor with an eye for detail, and the fact that Bragg is not a scientist or a true academic, and you end up with something that falls irritatingly short of its potential. Given my interests, I should have loved this book... but as it was I struggled at times to keep going. Oh, it's not all bad: there are many interesting facts, and my understanding of why English changed over time, and how close it was at various points to extinction, is much improved. But the bottom line is that it is a decidedly mixed bag.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Allen

    "Wow!" That's really all I can say after the last word of this book! Throughout the book, the author treats the language as a living, breathing, growing entity. And after experiencing this book, I'd say he's right! At times, English is facing persecution and extinction. At other times, English is rolling roughshod over whole nations. The author deals in details of history to make his personification of English stand on two feet. After this book, I have a new found pride to speak a language that "Wow!" That's really all I can say after the last word of this book! Throughout the book, the author treats the language as a living, breathing, growing entity. And after experiencing this book, I'd say he's right! At times, English is facing persecution and extinction. At other times, English is rolling roughshod over whole nations. The author deals in details of history to make his personification of English stand on two feet. After this book, I have a new found pride to speak a language that has had such a magnificant journey.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kaye

    This is the perfect book for those unfamiliar with the History of the English Language as well as for word nerds like me for whom that was a favorite undergraduate course. Not only is it well-researched, well-written, and full of info and humor, narrator Robert Powell is fabulous. Highly recommended! First reading started March 2012 Second reading finished August 14, 2014 Third reading finished December 30, 2015 Fourth reading finished January 28, 2019

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mignon

    I've listened to this audiobook at least three times, probably more. It's one of my favorites. The reader has a great voice and the book is filled with interesting tidbits. Every time I listen, I pick up something I missed before (or had forgotten).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie Willicombe

    I devoured this book. Absolutely fascinating.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alan Teder

    Very entertaining and loaded with terrific general knowledge trivia. I listened to the audiobook and the performance by Robert Powell alone was worth the price of admission. Trivia eg. We all mostly know that Mark Twain is the pen name of Samuel Clemens, but did you know he took it from the expression to measure 2 fathoms of water depth from a riverboat? A discovery for me was the Jamaican patois poetry of Louise Bennett-Coverley aka Miss Lou esp. her "Bans O' Killing", in defense of patois as a Very entertaining and loaded with terrific general knowledge trivia. I listened to the audiobook and the performance by Robert Powell alone was worth the price of admission. Trivia eg. We all mostly know that Mark Twain is the pen name of Samuel Clemens, but did you know he took it from the expression to measure 2 fathoms of water depth from a riverboat? A discovery for me was the Jamaican patois poetry of Louise Bennett-Coverley aka Miss Lou esp. her "Bans O' Killing", in defense of patois as a legitimate dialect that stands with others such as Scots & Irish brogue, Yorkshire & Cockney dialects, etc: BANS O’ KILLING” , 1944 So yuh a de man, me hear bout! Ah yuh dem sey dah-teck Whole heap o’ English oat sey dat Yuh gwine kill dialect! Meck me get it straight Mass Charlie For me noh quite undastan, Yuh gwine kill all English dialect Or jus Jamaica one? Ef yuh dah-equal up wid English Language, den wha meck Yuh gwine go feel inferior, wen It come to dialect? .. Ef yuh kean sing “Linstead Market” An “Wata come a me y’eye”, Yuh wi haffi tap sing “Auld lang syne” An “Comin thru de rye”. Dah language weh yuh proad o’, Weh yuh honour and respeck, Po’ Mass Charlie! Yuh noh know sey Dat it spring from dialect! Dat dem start fe try tun language, From de fourteen century, Five hundred years gawn an dem got More dialect dan we! Yuh wi haffe kill de Lancashire De Yorkshire, de Cockney De broad Scotch an de Irish brogue Before yuh start to kill me! Yuh wi haffe get de Oxford book O’ English verse, an tear Out Chaucer, Burns, Lady Grizelle An plenty o’ Shakespeare! Wen yuh done kill “wit” an “humour” Wen yuh kill “Variety” Yuh wi haffe fine a way fe kill Originality! An mine how yuh dah-read dem English Book deh pon yuh shelf For ef yuh drop a “h” yuh mighta Haffe kill yuhself. The example of tmesis (to insert a word inside another word) and the use of "bloody" in the poem "The Integrated Adjective" by John O'Grady was another standout :D THE INTEGRATED ADJECTIVE I was down on Riverina, knockin’ round the towns a bit, An’ occasionally restin’, with a schooner in me mitt; An’ on one o’ these occasions, when the bar was pretty full an’ the local blokes were arguin’ assorted kinds o’ bull, I heard a conversation, most peculiar in its way, Because only in Australia would you hear a joker say, “Where yer bloody been, yer drongo? ‘Aven’t seen yer fer a week; “An’ yer mate was lookin’ for yer when ‘e come in from the Creek; “‘E was lookin’ up at Ryan’s, an’ around at bloody Joe’s, “An’ even at the Royal where ‘e bloody never goes.” An’ the other bloke said “Seen ‘im. Owed ‘im ‘alf a bloody quid, “Forgot ter give ut back to ‘im; but now I bloody did. “Coulda used the thing me-bloody-self; been orf the bloody booze, “Up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin’ kanga-bloody-roos.” The book includes the apocryphal story that when the convict settlers to Australia asked the aboriginals what was the name of the odd animal with the pouch and heard "kangaroo," it actually meant "I don't understand what you're saying."

  24. 5 out of 5

    SR

    A really interesting work just as a piece of writing, if not always the most gripping conveyance of history (Bragg tends toward list-format paragraphs of words collected from other languages, to a fault). It's about the same subject matter as Bryson's Mother Tongue, with some detours in the direction of The Professor and the Madman, but the tone and perspective are unique. Bragg ADORES HIS SUBJECT. You can tell. He is positively gleeful when describing Chaucer and Shakespeare and Franklin and the A really interesting work just as a piece of writing, if not always the most gripping conveyance of history (Bragg tends toward list-format paragraphs of words collected from other languages, to a fault). It's about the same subject matter as Bryson's Mother Tongue, with some detours in the direction of The Professor and the Madman, but the tone and perspective are unique. Bragg ADORES HIS SUBJECT. You can tell. He is positively gleeful when describing Chaucer and Shakespeare and Franklin and the Chancery of England; he lovingly catalogs various (generally failed) efforts to impose uniformity in both written and spoken English; he roots for Welsh and Garlic and Singlish and Patwa and even txtspk. He's also, for added interest, from the Lake District in northwest England, and his first English was a dialect so locationally isolated and specific that it bore nontrivial similarities to Norse, and first contact with standard English was an utter system shock. So while he LOVES the English language and the changes it's undergone, he doesn't seem to see the language itself as part of his identity. He's hardcore descriptivist and happiest when discussing how often users and speakers carry the day when it comes to grammatical and pronunciation issues. He's also good - not exhaustively so, but good - about acknowledging the language as a tool of colonialism and a manifestation of power. Multiple chapters describe how English was forced on enslaved Africans in North America and the Caribbean, as well as on Indians during the Raj. These are entire books in themselves, and he acknowledges his treatment of these periods is shallow. In general, this is a good overview.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kendall

    How does an ancient Germanic dialect, spoken by farmers and fishermen in ancient northern Holland, descended in the mists of time from some parent common to Sanskrit, grow to become the most important language on the planet, indeed, the most important language the planet has ever had? How does an obscure, largely monosyllabic tongue become the language of Shakespeare, the language of aviation and science, the language of business? How does a language accept all those changes and import tens of How does an ancient Germanic dialect, spoken by farmers and fishermen in ancient northern Holland, descended in the mists of time from some parent common to Sanskrit, grow to become the most important language on the planet, indeed, the most important language the planet has ever had? How does an obscure, largely monosyllabic tongue become the language of Shakespeare, the language of aviation and science, the language of business? How does a language accept all those changes and import tens of thousands of words from other languages, and yet still, keep its identity? All but 7 of the top 100 most-used words in English come from this monosyllabic, old-English roots. If this kind of thing fascinates you, the Adventure of English is your book--a great yarn about how politics and economics and history impacted the growth of English, and how the power of English changed history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gypsi

    Bragg gives a history of the development of the English language, from it's humble beginnings through to it's near dominance globally. This is an engaging work, written for the layperson, that tells of events, locations, and people that helped shape the language. It's somewhat odd, even disconcerting, that Bragg refers to the language of English as though it were a sentient being, thinking, scheming, working to become the primary language. Despite this, the Adventure of English is a lively book Bragg gives a history of the development of the English language, from it's humble beginnings through to it's near dominance globally. This is an engaging work, written for the layperson, that tells of events, locations, and people that helped shape the language. It's somewhat odd, even disconcerting, that Bragg refers to the language of English as though it were a sentient being, thinking, scheming, working to become the primary language. Despite this, the Adventure of English is a lively book that surely interest history buffs and language enthusiasts.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    I find language fascinating and the English language all the more so. I would put this book at the top of my list of books on the subject. The history is fascinating. This language has a way of absorbing many other languages and yet remaining English. These days it is contributing to many other languages as well. A real history lesson woven into the developing language. I listened to the book which really helped since the reader did a wonderful job with accent and dialect. I highly recomend.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Leftbanker

    I may have used this line before but it bears repeating. As I work assiduously to improve my Spanish and French, it’s difficult for me to measure my progress. I can say one thing for certain: my English is awesome, or I should say that my understanding of how English came to be is pretty solid. I can’t even count how many books I’ve read on this subject. I have enjoyed almost all of them, but I must put this at the top of the list. It’s a blast to read, informative, yet it comes in at only 321 I may have used this line before but it bears repeating. As I work assiduously to improve my Spanish and French, it’s difficult for me to measure my progress. I can say one thing for certain: my English is awesome, or I should say that my understanding of how English came to be is pretty solid. I can’t even count how many books I’ve read on this subject. I have enjoyed almost all of them, but I must put this at the top of the list. It’s a blast to read, informative, yet it comes in at only 321 pages so it’s not a lifetime commitment. Some stuff that I think is really cool: Our everyday conversation is still founded on and funded by Old English. Almost all of the hundred most common words in our language worldwide, wherever it is spoken, come from Old English. There are three from Old Norse, “they,” “their” and “them,” and the first French-derived word is “number,” in at seventy-six. The hundred words are: 1. the; 2. of; 3. and; 4. a; 5. to; 6. in; 7. is; 8. you; 9. that; 10. it; 11. he; 12. was; 13. for; 14. on; 15. are; 16. as; 17. with; 18. his; 19. they; 20. I; 21. at; 22. be; 23. this; 24. have; 25. from; 26. or; 27. one; 28. had; 29. by; 30. word; 31. but; 32. not; 33. what; 34. all; 35. were; 36. we; 37. when; 38. your; 39. can; 40. said; 41. there; 42. use; 43. an; 44. each; 45. which; 46. she; 47. do; 48. how; 49. their; 50. if; 51. will; 52. up; 53. other; 54. about; 55. out; 56; many; 57. then; 58. them; 59. these; 60. so; 61. some; 62. her; 63. would; 64. make; 65. like; 66. him; 67. into; 68. time; 69. has; 70. look; 71. two; 72. more; 73. write; 74. go; 75. see; 76. number; 77. no; 78. way; 79. could; 80. people; 81. my; 82. than; 83. first; 84. water; 85. been; 86. call; 87. who; 88. oil; 89. its; 90. now; 91. find; 92. long; 93. down; 94. day; 95. did; 96. get; 97. come; 98. made; 99. may; 100. part If this isn’t something you think is cool, I may have to challenge you to a duel. • Duel- etymology - Medieval Latin duellum, Latin: earlier form of bellum war, probably maintained and given sense "duel'' by association with Latin duo two Most of this will literally go in one ear and quickly go out the other because I have a learning disability (I suffer from late stage stupidity). This means that I’ll have to reread this soon. I can hardly wait.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Connie

    I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone other than a dedicated English-language nerd. It is extensive and goes through the evolution of the English language over many centuries. I thought the anthropomorphism of the language was rather brilliant. It was a fun take and made the subject much more interesting and readable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Darnell

    Instead of operating as a neutral scholar, often the author comes off as a cheerleader for the English language. He also has a tendency to use ten examples where two or three would have been sufficient (and more memorable). As a whole, however, his enthusiasm isn't a bad thing. This is a solid book that goes a bit deeper and wider than I would have expected.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.