The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language Melvin Bragg

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The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language Melvin Bragg

London: Hodder and Stoughton 2003

Not a book for the academic scholar of English, but one which nevertheless might well be read with pleasure by such. Packed full of titillating information, The Adventure of English traces the history of the vocabulary of that West German language which is today the preeminent lingua franca for humanity. The book's prime attraction is the wide information it gives on the origin of the most common words we all use in everyday speech, and the fact that it sets these in the context of the unfolding history of the English people. Indeed, it may be regarded as much as a colorful history of the English from the dawn of Anglo-Saxon history down to the present day as a history of the English language. After all, there are words for everything we know and think, and English has more such words and is more capable of expressing ideas more explicitly than any other language mankind has ever known.

Melvin Bragg traces the roots of English in an early mingling of the closely related Anglian and Saxon dialects following the mass arrival of these peoples from what is today Schleswig-Holstein, located on the Danish peninsula between Denmark and Germany proper. Other West German peoples such as the Frisians and the Dutch also had an input, as also North German Jutes and Danish and Norwegian Vikings. Some vocabulary was eventually absorbed from the British Celts who had settled the British Isles centuries before the arrival of the English, along with just a few words borrowed over the centuries from the Gaelic Celts of Ireland and Scotland. When the North German Normans, accompanied by West German Franks (both by then speaking forms of French) arrived with William the Conqueror, English largely disappeared from the public records, being subordinated to Norman French. However, the language survived amongst the people, and steadily gained strength to resurface as an official language in the 1300s under Edward I, achieving victory over French under Henry V. …


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