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The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg

The Adventure of English (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Melvyn Bragg

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1,205296,646 (3.69)51
Title:The Adventure of English
Authors:Melvyn Bragg
Info:Sceptre (2004), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Adventure of English: 500AD to 2000: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg (2003)


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An exploration of the development of the English language.

Bragg is well known for his work on BBC4; he writes the book as an extremely endangered species, the passionate and well-informed non-specialist. His rhetoric is over the top on not a few occasions, and his writing can get bombastic, but the passion for the project comes through.

The author works the thesis of English's adaptability as facilitating its survival at certain dire moments, and then leading to its flexibility and dominance. He notes the overall limited number of Celtic words imported into the language of the Anglo-Saxons, and then how that English was able to withstand the Norman invasion and its effects. Once English re-establishes itself as the language of state, the narrative goes on to expound upon how it developed and adapted in different environments, in England and abroad.

A worthwhile read to help understand why English is the way it is. ( )
  deusvitae | Sep 4, 2017 |
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, Yorkshire, Cockney etc:
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

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." ( )
  alanteder | Jan 26, 2017 |
The rise of the English language from an obscure Germanic dialogue to the most influential language in the world has been a long and difficult journey. It spent years underground as the unofficial language of Britain during the French occupation and slowly built itself up to be the language of the largest Empire the world has seen.

Bragg covers the history of the English language well and argues that English will continue to adapt to fit the zeitgeist. Mandarin might be the most widely spoken language in the world but English is still the most influential, and won’t give up that title without a fight. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Jan 19, 2017 |
Fascinating book on how the English language grew from a small regional dialect to one of the most prevalent languages in the world. ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
I loved this book. I actually listened to it, and Robert Powell's performance is brilliant and, for me at least, greatly enhanced my enjoyment of this book. Poor ignorant slob that I am, I would not have been able to justice to the variety of language references throughout this book, the Frezeland?, Latin, French, Old and Middle English, regional dialects and accents? Powell brings them all alive with his most enjoyable performance. ( )
1 vote Post_Hypnotic | Jul 19, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Bragg sees the English Language as a living organism, with hopes, fears, courage and determination all of its own. Its history is an epic tale of breaking free from the confines of mainland Europe, leaping into the wide expanse of the British Isles, heroic resistance to the onslaught of the Vikings, then cruel defeat by the Normans, dark years of oppression as it gazes upon looming extinction. Then, just when all seems lost, comes triumph over its enemies, a glorious blooming, a bursting forth to take on the world and win the prize of Top Language, as it has always felt its destiny to be.
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Book description
English is the collective work of millions of people throughout the ages. It is democratic, ever-changing and ingenious in its assimilation of other cultures. English runs through the heart of world finance, medicine and the Internet, and it is understood by around two thousand million people across the world. Yet it was very nearly wiped out in its early years.

In this book Melvyn Bragg shows us the remarkable story of the English language; from its beginnings as a minor guttural Germanic dialect to its position today as a truly established global language. THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH is not only an enthralling story of power, religion and trade, but also the story of people, and how their day-to-day lives shaped and continue to change the extraordinary language that is English.
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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.… (more)

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