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The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language

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Overview


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 ...
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The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language

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Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

Newsday
“Superb. . . . Inspiring.”
Bloomsbury Review
“A thorough and incredibly enjoyable trip down a linguistic memory lane.”
The Daily Telegraph
“A captivating history.”
Publishers Weekly
This compelling and charmingly personal companion to an eight-part television documentary (scheduled for the fall) makes for an idiosyncratic rival to PBS's bestselling blockbuster The Story of English, by Robert McCrum et al. Titling a history of the evolution and expansion of a language an "adventure" presupposes a hero, with such obvious choices as Alfred the Great, for defeating the Danes; Chaucer, for his Canterbury Tales; Shakespeare, for his poetic inventiveness; or Samuel Johnson, for his groundbreaking dictionary. Bragg, a British TV and radio personality and novelist (The Soldier's Return), gives all their contributions their due, but English itself, with its "deep obstinacy" and "astonishing flexibility," emerges as his favorite character. Bragg's enthusiasm for his subject-hero, whether the Old English of Beowulf or the new "Text English" of the Internet, makes up for his shortcomings as a linguist: his sources, unfootnoted, are at times at variance with the OED or Webster's Third. For instance, Bragg furnishes only one putative origin for the disputed "real McCoy." Moreover "candy" does not seem to have Anglo-Indian origins (it's from the Arabic "qandi"), and the first recorded use of "vast" is not from Shakespeare (the OED cites Archbishop Edwin Sandys). Nevertheless, this "biography" succeeds in its broad, sweeping narrative, carrying the reader from the origins of Anglo-Saxon through the Viking and Norman invasions to the consolidation of "British" English and outward to America, Australia, India, the West Indies and beyond. After some 1,500 years, with one billion speakers now worldwide, according to Bragg, the English language has displayed an amazing ability to repair and reinvent itself, as Bragg ably shows. 32 pages of color illus. Agent, Vivien Greene of Shiel Land, U.K. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Bragg, a prolific British novelist and broadcast journalist, offers a lively "biography" of the English language, highlighting key individuals, places, and literature that advanced it, as well as the political and social trends that influenced it. Following a chronology of how English developed from its Germanic base, Bragg discusses its evolution in the English colonies, devoting four chapters to the United States and one each to India, the West Indies, and Australia. John Wycliffe and William Tyndale receive substantial, moving portraits for translating the Bible into English an amazing effort that supported national literacy and provided a Bible for Henry VIII's newly independent church. Bragg also underscores the sonnet, the poetic form that Shakespeare and others used to match in English the beauty of Italian and other European poetry. Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales also get a nod. Well researched yet more accessible to a wide audience than scholarly treatments by linguists or historians (e.g., Robert McCrum's Story of English and Albert C. Baugh's History of the English Language), this volume takes a novel sociological approach, focusing less on the grammar's development than on how the language developed via people and events. The result is a work more readable to a broader audience than similar titles yet also satisfying to scholars. Highly recommended. [Originally published in England, this book is a tie-in to an eight-part TV series, produced by Bragg, which is expected to air in the United States this spring. Ed.] Marianne Orme, Des Palines P.L., IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611450071
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 169,419
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Melvyn Bragg has written several works of non-fiction (as well as his bestselling novels) including Speak for England, an oral history of the twentieth century; Rich, a biography of Richard Burton; and On Giants’ Shoulders, a history of science based on his BBC radio series. He was born in 1939 and educated at Oxford where he read history. He is controller of Arts at LWT and presi- dent of the National Campaign for the Arts. In 1998 he was made a life peer. He lives in London and Cumbria.
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Table of Contents

1 The Common Tongue 1
2 The Great Escape 16
3 Conquest 32
4 Holding On 40
5 The Speech of Kings 52
6 Chaucer 66
7 God's English 76
8 English and the Language of the State 89
9 William Tyndale's Bible 99
10 A Renaissance of Words 109
11 Preparing the Ground 121
12 Shakespeare's English 132
13 "My America" 144
14 Wild West Words 161
15 Sold Down the River 176
16 Mastering the Language 188
17 The Proper Way to Talk 207
18 Steam, Streets and Slang 224
19 Indian Takeover 236
20 The West Indies 251
21 Advance Australia 261
22 Warts and All 272
23 All Over the World 281
24 And Now ...? 290
Acknowledgments 297
Picture Acknowledgments 301
Bibliography 303
Index 313
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Customer Reviews

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