Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg

            I don't often read nonfiction. However, I really enjoy history (except wars) and I love knowing about words - where they came from, how their usage has changed over time - so this book was right up my alley. It describes how the English language went from a local dialect of a few thousand words to the world wide form of communication it is today.

            Admittedly, some of the earlier chapters went over information I was already familiar with. But it was very interesting to read about how the language spread beyond the island of England to become the basis of communication on other continents. Naturally, I found the language's arrival in and progression through the US fascinating. I was unaware of how influential the Lewis and Clark expedition through the Louisiana Purchase was in the increase of American English vocabulary. I liked how the chapter on the American expansion opened:

If you can imagine a language having a life of its own...that language after a certain take-off stage becomes a living entity, like water...the reach of English has been oceanic. It had already by this stage in its history, the middle of the eighteenth century, gone from a splinter dialect of a subdivision of a branch of an Indo-European tongue to the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, the language that sailed in the mouths and minds of zealous and dedicated men and women to plant itself in a new world.

            Obviously, this book is not for everyone. I enjoyed it immensely.

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