I’ve got more to say about Spain, but I still need to put some photos on the computer from my camera so I’ll save that for another day.  Meanwhile, I thought I’d write about one of the books I read whilst away; it also links in quite nicely with what my friend is talking about over here.

I first read The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg a couple of years ago when I was first getting interested in Old English and applying for university; a friend gave it to me for my 18th birthday.  So it was nice to reread it now with a bit more knowledge.  It is, as the tag-line says, the biography of a language.  The companion book to one of his TV series, it charts the history of the English Language from the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons to the year 2000.  It is not an academic book and does not claim to be(which is not to say it is not well researched; it is, and a useful bibliography is provided); it is an enjoyable and easy to read exploration of the development of our language.  He doesn’t go into the complexities of philology, sound changes and grammar, and concentrates mainly on the origins of different words and the influences of other languages on English.  He charts the development of the use of English for different purposes, particularly as a literary language, through focusing on the contributions of such figures as King Alfred, Chaucer, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and many less well known characters such as Captain Meriweather Lewis and William Clark.

He is particularly interested in English’s ability to absorb other languages and to adapt to any circumstances, and the book is a celebration of the many dialects, pidgin and creole versions of English that exist all over the world, from Geordie and Cockney to the black African-American dialect of Gullah in South Carolina and Australian English.  Attempts by dictionary writers to freeze and fix the language are shown to be futile, as the people who use the language at every level of society find new ways to express themselves, finding new uses and meanings for old words, inventing new words to describe and explain new inventions and ideas, and adapting and modernising grammar.

Language development is fascinating and this book is a must for anyone who is even vaguely interested in this topic.  It is very easy to read and, if nothing else, will enrich your vocabulary with strange dialect words!  For me, it has made me even more keen to study Germanic Philology properly; luckily that’s one of the courses I can take next year!

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