In chronological fashion, this interesting book sets out to describe the creation and the evolution of the English language since its very beginning. Many references are made to essential authors such as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens. The emphasis, of course, is placed on Great Britain and the United States but the specificities developed in India, the West Indies and Australia are also discussed at some length.
The audio version should be avoided however as the work includes lists of words that are of course rather tedious to follow. Also, the audio format makes it impossible to go back later to verify the history of a specific word or even a particular author's contribution to the language.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Appealing to History BuffsDec 3 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
This easy to read volume discusses the history and development of the English language. It covers the period from the invasion of the Angles and Saxons up to modern times. There were a few close calls in the history of English. We could be speaking Danish or French, if history had turned out differently. What would the world be like then?
Each chapter covers a different era of English history and towards the end of the book, American and International English history. It breaks down how certain important events influenced the development of the English language. It also provides some samples of word origins, and how grammar has gradually changed over the centuries. I think that anyone who is interested in English or history, and especially anyone who is interested in both, should pick this up.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Introduction to the English LanguageFeb. 4 2006
Gordon C. Duus
- Published on Amazon.com
In this book Melvyn Bragg presents, in an easy to read style, the story of the evolution of the English language. Starting with the origins of Old English in the fifth century, he describes the impact on the language of the Viking invasion of England in the ninth century, the enormous effect of the victory of the french-speaking Normans over the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings, the breakthrough of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, how the publication of various bibles spread English to the households of Britain, and Shakespeare's preeminent impact on the development of the language. The focus then shifts to the influence on English of colonial America, the Wild West, African Americans, the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean and Australia. His central thesis is that English is uniquely adaptive, absorbing other languages with which it comes into contact, thereby growing and becoming richer and more expressive.
This book is designed to accompany a PBS series to debut in 2006. It is aimed at the typical PBS viewer. The critical reviews on this site, which scold the author for not being more rigorous or scholarly, often seem to miss this point. This is an excellent introduction to the origins of the English language.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Not a PhD Level Thesis, But What Did You Expect?Nov. 9 2009
Guy the Gorilla
- Published on Amazon.com
Melvyn Bragg is the well-known writer, editor, and producer of the long running British South Bank Show, and is also a prolific writer and novelist. He is not a linguist, but with his background as a journalist for the BBC, he does appear to know how to collect and compile reasonably accurate information and make it presentable, readable, and accessible to anyone with a high school level education.
I suppose if someone wants an authoritative discourse on the development of English, there is always the Oxford History of English. However, a quick check on the Amazon site for that particular book shows exactly zero reader reviews, suggesting that it isn't exactly a best seller. I'm sure linguists consult books written at that level regularly, but for someone who wants a quick overview written in readable prose, Bragg's book is not bad.
I am not a historian by trade, though I am reasonably well-read on the subject. I did not detect any glaring historical errors in Bragg's book, though to read some of the one-star reviews you'd get the impression he completely fumbled the research. I don't believe that is the case - if there are mistakes here in the research - then they are minor and nothing that I could detect.
My chief complaint about the book is regarding Bragg's style. This is a book about the English language, so perhaps all the verbal flourishes were intended to highlight the utility of English to convey thoughts not only precisely but artistically. Nonetheless, I found the prose a bit much - a bit too flowery and florid and overdone. Writers are not supposed to call attention to themselves by overdoing the so-called fifty-dollar words - I think Bragg should have toned the descriptives down a tad. He also decided to personify the language - talking about the English language throughout the book as though it was some kind of living entity capable of making decisions and performing actions. When combined with the aforementioned flowery language, this became a distraction and really did not contribute to the book whatsoever.
That said, I learned a good deal of new information, so I think, all in all, this was a worthwhile read. I am not sure I will run out and read everything else Bragg has ever written, but he is to be congratulated here for producing a book on the history of the English language that should be accessible to the average high school or college graduate - which is in keeping with the spirit of his television program as well.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A nice story of a remarkable character, told by a very talented storytellerDec 22 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
I learnt of this book through the results of a search on English language's history books, and I bought it along with Professor's David Crystal's The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. This may sound naïve, but the moment I unwrapped the parcel I kinda felt that I'd got something worth the money I had spent, which was not a small amount, as I live in South America. I'd never reviewed any purchase I did before, Amazon's or any other online store's, but I just finished Mr. Bragg's book, and I felt I just couldn't let through the opportunity to say how pleasant were the reading moments this book provided me these last few weeks, and it would be a shame if I didn't do at least a meagre effort to get more people have their share of this priceless treasure. I am Brazilian, and as you probably know the language spoken in my country is Portuguese. I've got this little book on Portuguese language history here, and it is sad that, besides being a very short one and dealing mostly with the linguistic aspects of the language (which doesn't devaluate the book at all, on account of being mostly technical talking, but sure keeps it from being more interesting and accessible to a wider public) and not having even been written by a Portuguese speaker, was the only one I could find. On the other hand, search Amazon for English language history and you'll get tons of results, which shows how fond of their mother tongue the English native speakers are. And if that was my first (and good) impression on the amount of the results of my search, I became simply astonished as the pages went by. Mr. Braggs speaks of English language not in a romanticised way, not as a close friend, not in a passionately (and possibly suspicious and annoying, as it uses to be when it comes to passionate descriptions) way, but with deep respect, permeated with kindness, and it goes without saying from the first to the last page that Mr. Melvyn is really enjoying telling people all he got to learn about his beloved subject, and feels glad that he is cooperating somehow to create a rather personal bonding between the reader and the language in which he tells the latter's own story. You can almost see English language as a typical adventure story hero: someone who's got feelings, sometimes lack of self-assurance, others ambition, greed, joy, arrogance, someone who goes after his goals. English language shows up like a palpable subject, like the old (hundreds and hundreds of years old) lady who sits beside us on the bus, on her way not to the confort of her house, but in search for some good fun on the neighbourhood, or maybe beyond. I am not an English native speaker, and you who are reading this may find many grammar or vocabulary mistakes in this review, of which I am not well aware myself, but that doesn't worry me much, as Mr. Bragg conveys rather conforting news to us who use English as a second language: we've got a very important role in the next chapters of this never-ending English adventure. I confess I am very proud of it, and it'd be an honour if my part on this story was to be told by such a good storyteller as Mr. Bragg.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A Brilliant and Compelling storySept. 26 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
If you love the beauty, subtlety and adaptability of English, this book will give you very many insights into how English has reached its current position, as probably the world's pre-eminent language. At no stage a 'dry' text book, Bragg's book moves at the speed of light and with all the twists and turns of a Michael Connelly crime novel. This is the history of a people as well as its language. Of how it emerged from three hundred years of French rule during which French and Latin were the only 'recognised' written lnaguages. And how from these languages it absorbed adapted, enriched and broadened English so it could communicate on an ever wider range of issues. Touches on the Roman Catholic Church in England and, shamefully, how it insisted on all bibles being in Latin and therefore having to be mediated by the 'chosen' ones the bishops and priests who where then able to misuse their power of being, effectively, the voice of God. I could not put down this book and would select it as a present for most of my friends. Buy it and experience the thrill of discovery which so many readers will find. I also saw the book presented in a 25 episode program on Australian TV, enjoyed it then, and was further delighted by the book