Thursday, February 23, 2012

‘The Adventure of English’ by Melvyn Bragg

Reviewed by Jesi

Here is the riveting story of the English language, from its humble beginnings as a regional dialect to its current preeminence as the one global language, spoken by more than two billion people worldwide. In this groundbreaking book, Melvyn Bragg shows how English conquered the world. It is a magnificent adventure, full of jealousy, intrigue, and war—against a hoard of invaders, all armed with their own conquering languages, which bit by bit, the speakers of English absorbed and made their own.

Along the way, its colorful story takes in a host of remarkable people, places, and events: the Norman invasion of England in 1066; the arrival of The Canterbury Tales and a “coarse” playwright named William Shakespeare, who added 2,000 words to the language; the songs of slaves; the words of Davy Crockett; and the Lewis and Clark expedition, which led to hundreds of new words as the explorers discovered unknown flora and fauna. The Adventure of English is an enthralling story not only of power, religion, and trade, but also of a people and how they changed the world.
(Amazon product description)

I have been recommending this book to everyone.  I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but this book was fascinating.  It tells the story of how our language evolved from ancient Sanskrit up through the centuries into what we speak today.  I know that sounds boring, but if you like history, you will love this book. 

One of the reasons I loved this book is because I actually listened to it on the audio version.  If you have never heard Old English spoken, it is both familiar and foreign at the same time.  Very strange.  Even the English of a few centuries ago would be hard for us to understand completely if we were to go back in time.  (Claire from Outlander would have never been able to understand Jamie...)  This is one that I think was better as an audio book.
The history in the book was really interesting.  I think my favorite part was leaning just how big a role French played in the formation of our language.  I’m descended from the Normans on both sides of my family.  During the Norman invasion of England, French very easily could have taken over completely, causing English to die out in the way Cornish and Gaelic did.  Instead, English persevered by taking on many French words and making them part of the total lexicon. 

Anyway, whether you are a word nerd or a history buff, The Adventure of English is definitely worth the read...or listen. 

Overall I give The Adventure of English...

Plot - 4 bookmarks (Normally, I wouldn’t think of a non-fic as having a plot, but this was interesting, fast paced and made you feel as if you were journeying through time.  I call that plot.)
History - 5 bookmarks (Along the way, the book explains how historic people and events shaped the language. Shakespeare, Chaucer, Bible translators, Native Americans, etc.)
Research - 5 bookmarks (Some of the stuff the author came up with amazed me.)
Narrator - 5 bookmarks (I strongly recommend this as an audio book.)

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