A landmark history of the English language detailing how and where it began 1,500 years ago and how it evolved to become the tongue of some two billion people worldwide.
In this groundbreaking book, Melvyn Bragg shows us the remarkable story of the English language from its modest beginnings around 500 A.D. as a minor guttural Germanic dialect to its position today as a truly established global language. Along the way its colorful story takes in a host of characters, locations, and events, from the early Anglo-Saxon tribes; Alfred the Great's stubborn resistance to the Danes; the impact of the Norman invasion in 1066; the "arrival" of such masterpieces as Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales, not to mention a "coarse" playwright named William Shakespeare (who alone contributed 2,000 new words to the language!); the songs of the Creole slaves and the words of Davy Crockett; and Lewis and Clark's expedition west, which coined hundreds of new terms as they discovered hitherto unknown flora and fauna. Embracing elements of Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Hindi, and Gullah, this 1,500-year story covers a huge range of countries and peoples. The Adventure of English is an enthralling story not only of power, religion, and trade but also of people and how they changed. And continue to change the extraordinary language that is English.
It's quite a gripping story - just as one thinks English is going to be finally squashed by an invading language, up it bounces as right as rain, not just having survived, but having grown by absorbing the invader (like a linguistic version of the movie Aliens). (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
A fascinating tableau of a Darwinian struggle to survive and evolve.
Booklist - Mary Ellen Quinn
Why do Americans say fall when the British say autumn? How was English altered by the Black Death? What is Singlish and how has it evolved? Novelist Bragg explores these and other questions in his look at the English language's long march from obscure Sanskrit origins to a global lingua franca.... he is the ideal tour guide here, both entertaining and informative.
...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.
Library Journal - Marianne Orme
Starred review. 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.
Daily Telegraph, London
A captivating history of how the English language we know today came into being.
Mail on Sunday, London
A fascinating story, enthusiastically told by Bragg in tones of real adventure.
There is a real passion and lively erudition. Bragg at his best.
The Independent (UK)
On American English as it evolved Bragg is excellent. He has a novelist's eye for the illuminating vignette... It is always readable, often thought-provoking, and consistently entertaining . The color illustrations are a particularly striking feature of the book.
Bragg's superb new history of the English language is told as an adventure story, and rightly so. There is much splendid intellectual firepower in this book.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Adam Picot
"The Adventure of English" is an excellent documentation of the formation and subsequent journey of the English language up to the present day. It is told in a fluent and scholarly style but with a conversational tone running throughout. This is... Read More
Melvyn Bragg was born in 1939 in Wigton, Cumbria - where many of his 19 fictional books are
set. He won a scholarship to Oxford to read history, and in 1961 he gained a
coveted traineeship with the BBC.
He presented Start the Week between 1988 and 1998. In his 1998 series On
Giant's Shoulders he interviewed scientists about their eminent
predecessors, and from 1999 to 2001 he presented The Routes of English, a
series celebrating 1,000 years of the spoken language (on which The Adventure
of English is based).
He currently presents In Our Time, a BBC Radio 4 series where he and his
expert guests discuss the history of ideas, and explore subjects in culture and
science. The show is off-air until late September but after that you
should be able to listen to it by visiting the
As well as presenting for Radio 4, he is Controller of Arts for London Weekend
Television and is the presenter of The South Bank Show. In 1998 he was made a
life peer. He has written...
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