The Story of English is a classic case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. English and history are two of my least favorite subjects and so naturally I should be repelled by a book containing the history of the English language. But, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and to my surprise I’m enjoying it.
I haven’t finished this book yet, but I’m writing this review cause I think it requires a progressive review. There is just too much information to fill this in a single review.
Chapter 1: An English-Speaking World
The book begins with how the English language became globalized during the recent past. Not starting the book with mundane ancient-anthropological history lesson on the language helped with making me want to read on.
This chapter colorfully illustrates how proper English became globalized with the influences of social classes, world wars, development of radios and motion pictures, popular cultures, and economical globalization.
Interesting facts from Ch 1:
– “Today, English is used by at least 750 million people, and barely half of those speak it as a mother tongue.” pg 9
– “Of all the world’s languages (which now number some 2,700), it is arguably the richest in vocabulary. The compendious Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words… neighboring German has vocabulary of about 185,000 words and the French 100,000…” pg 10
-“A Dutch poet is read by a few thousands. Translated into English, he can be read by hundreds of thousands.” pg. 11
– “Non-standard English was now seriously stigmatized as the mark of the under-educated.” pg. 14
– “An accent has two vital functions: first, it gives us a clue about the speaker’s life and career; second, an accent will give a good indication of the speaker’s community values, and what he or she identifies with.” pg. 20
-“Throuhout the 1950s , American television and movies combined to bring American English and the American way of life- as interpreted by – to a world audience.” pg. 25
-“American broadcasting, of course, had long been the most potent medium of the English language.” pg. 27
-“It is the non-linguistic forces – cultural, social, economical and political – that have made English the first work language in human history and instilled its driving force. ” pg. 41
Chapter 2: The Mother Tongue
The second chapter is where the book begins to chronicle the development of the English from the very beginning. The development of the language includes the origination of the Indo-European language with the influence of the Celtic, Anglo-Saxons, Latin and Greek (through Christianity), Danes, and the French speaking Normans.
Despite how this may sound boring, the authors do a pretty good job in keeping the stories entertaining.
Interesting facts from Ch. 2
– “… the language was brought to Britain by Germanic tribes, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, influenced by Latin and Greek when St. Augustine and his followers converted England to Christianity, subtly enriched by the Danes, and finally transformed by the French-speaking Normans.” pg. 46
– “… about 1/3 of the human race come from this Indo-European ‘common source’. These include the European descendants of Latin, French, and Spanish, a great Slavic language, Russian, the Celtic language, Irish and Scots Gaelic, and the offshoots of German – Dutch and English.” pg. 47
– “… the first invaders of the British Isles – the Angles, Saxons and Jute… The English language arrived in Britain on the point of a sword.” pg. 55
-“…100 most common words in English are all of Anglo-Saxon origin.” pg. 58
Click for Part 2 of the review