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The Adventure of English [Paperback]

Melvyn Bragg
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
Price: 8.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

1 Sep 2004

English is the collective work of millions of people throughout the ages. It is democratic, ever-changing and ingenious in its assimilation of other cultures. English runs through the heart of world finance, medicine and the Internet, and it is understood by around two thousand million people across the world. Yet it was very nearly wiped out in its early years.

In this book Melvyn Bragg shows us the remarkable story of the English language; from its beginnings as a minor guttural Germanic dialect to its position today as a truly established global language. THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH is not only an enthralling story of power, religion and trade, but also the story of people, and how their day-to-day lives shaped and continue to change the extraordinary language that is English.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; New Ed edition (1 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340829931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340829936
  • Product Dimensions: 12.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Melvyn 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. (Andrew Roberts, Spectator)

Concise as well as learned...Melvyn Bragg takes the high road and strides confidently through the origins and growth of English. It gives us an impressive and sage view of the big picture. (Robert Winder, New Statesman)

Bragg is an expert translator in areas that academics find difficult to popularise...he produces a pithy, accessible narrative. (Guardian)

This breathless tale of the English language is one of struggle, resilience and triumph (Irish Times)

Beautifully clear and, indeed, thrilling (Waterstone's Books Quarterly)

Bragg's approachable account gleams with little gems. It has power and clarity...rewarding. (Sunday Herald)

Always readable, often thought-provoking, and consistently entertaining. (Independent)

This is a highly readable, jargon-free treatise on a notoriously prickly subject. Bragg's affection for his subject is infectious. In this he successfully joins a long tradition of gentleman enthusiasts from peppery Dr Johnson to genial James Murray. (Observer)

Book Description

Melvyn Bragg's fascinating biography of the English language

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
99 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a great read 12 Feb 2004
If you are interested in the history of the English Language, word derivations and English generally I strongly recommend this book. I would have given it 5 stars but knocked one off because at times, especially in the first few chapters, Bragg can get a bit tedious. His writing style is very odd too. I'm not saying it's bad, just odd. It's as if he is slightly off-kilter with the world. Also some of his sentences go on for ever with little punctuation, which struck me as peculiar given that Bragg is a consummate intellectual and is writing about English!
Nit-picking aside the book is a great read. It is full of interesting history and, especially in the latter half of the book, full of fascinating facts you always wanted to know about words but couldn't be bothered finding out. Such as the reason for expressions such as 'the Real McKoy' and 'Maverick'. Why Americans pronounce every syllable while us Brits tend to clip vowels as in 'Cem-e-ter-y'(US) and 'ceme-try'(England). How Kangaroo, supposedly, wasn't actually the name of the animal but the aboriginal for 'I don't know what you're talking about' when a native was asked for it's name in English. etc etc
If it's quick fire facts about the English language you're after I would recommend Bill Bryson's 'Mother Tongue'. It is an easier read and has more humour. Bragg's book goes into much more depth charting the progress of English from it's very beginning up to present day America and Australia. Not as readable as Bryson, his style more lecture hall than matey, but definitely worth it.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
This book has more plots twists and dark Catholic deeds than a Dan Brown blockbuster and its all based on fact!
The best implemented sections are those that cover the language from the 4th century through to 17th century, and encompassed the repeated invasions during the first millenium by anyone on mainland europe with a boat and an axe, the Norman invasion and subsequant 300 year occupation, the plague, the catholic strangle hold of the 15th and 16th century, attempts to translate the latin bible to english for all to read, catholic attempts to stop this, the origins of Protestantism, the formalising of the language away from its regional spellings and dialect into a singular language, the work of the tamperers in making the language more difficult to learn thru the first official publication of the English Bible by King James 1.
Pros: Its all great stuff and additionally provides a real taste for the history that has shaped much of this country as it stands today.
CONS: It does lose its impact as it takes onboard the modern forms of english; American, Jamiacan etc but that might be because these hold little interest for me at this time.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly awesome audiobook! 27 Oct 2005
Format:Audio CD
Melvyn Bragg's account of the evolution of the English language is very well-researched, makes fascinating references to the impact of history, and is exceedingly clear.
What raises the work even further is the reading in the audio version by Robert Powell. I would honestly say that this is breathtaking! He reads just how Greek, Latin, French, Friesian, Old Norse, Old English, Middle English, regional dialects, etc have amalgamated over the centuries and freely absorbed from so many other languages. His polyglot weaving through linguistic influences is a unique achievement.
A treat!
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
The English language comes alive in Melvyn Bragg's hands, an acquisitive, adaptable and cunning baron accumulating a "word-hoard" culled from every language the English-speakers encounter. Always engaging, he traces the language from Britain's Frisian invaders through its darkest hours of domination by Danish, Norman and French to its emergence into the sunlight of Shakespeare and beyond. The ordinary people are the heroes, affirmed as the repositories of the language, resisting and eventually overcoming suppression by French and Latin elites.
While making no claims to be academic the book is linguistically well-informed and packed with endless (and often surprising) examples of borrowings from other languages throughout its 1500 year history. Bragg sees this facility for borrowing as the key to the current global domination of English, resisting in doing so even its home-grown grammarians, lexicographers and other guardians of stagnation. The English dialects are part of that rich pattern and Bragg has no difficulty in celebrating their survival or the continuing resistance to standardised pronunciation.
While fundamentally Anglo-centric, the development and contribution of American English is discussed reasonably fully, along with his understanding of its centrality in the emergence of English as the world's second language. Those who want a comprehensive discussion of the other international versions of English will have to look elsewhere as all get a mention but in superficial detail. This is not to say he is dismissive of them as he sees creoles such as Jamaican patois as no less a part of the language as the English dialects. Ultimately he sees English as diverging into a variety of subsidiary languages in the way that Latin did.
Bragg's style is engaging and compelling despite the extensive historical and linguistic detail, with his love for his language and its earthy roots shining through.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Inspiring Read 1 Jan 2004
This is a truly excellent book. Anyone interested in language, reading and all things wordy will find much of interest. The book is based on the TV series but deals with matters in more depth and you'll be carried along with Bragg's sense of enthusiasm and vivid writing style. Bragg uses history, art, music, cinema and much more to illustrate and explain the development of English. He writes with genuine authority but at no point does he lose the reader - indeed, he leads you into a world of fascinating ideas and information. This is the first book by Melvyn Bragg that I've read but it will not be the last!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book.
This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the English language, and in fact language, and particularly how it developed and is linked to other languages. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Mrs. Kathleen N Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
A great book which was bought as a gift and was very well received by the intended audience. To say "over the moon" is an understatement.
Published 1 month ago by David Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars The Adventure of English
An interesting listen if you don't mind Melvyn Bragg's rather boring voice. I enjoyed Bill Bryson's similar book much more.
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. L. Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting
I really enjoyed reading this book, it's amazing the way English has absorbed words from other languages and used them to enrich itself.
Published 4 months ago by M. BURGESS
5.0 out of 5 stars Such A Fascinating Adventure!
Here Bragg treats the English language as if it were the protagonist of a magnificent 1500 year journey. And the journey has just begun!
Published 4 months ago by Robert
5.0 out of 5 stars An evolving language
I enjoyed this book very much particularly when I got used to Braggs prolific use of the comma. It made me feel much happier about changes in the English language, a language I... Read more
Published 4 months ago by etheldreda
5.0 out of 5 stars The love of English
The book is a journey, a journey in time over the centuries with the English-language. It is an education and also it entertains. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Guylott
5.0 out of 5 stars So you thought that word was 'English'. Think again!
I bought this as a paperback some years ago when first published. I enjoyed it then; I've recommended it to others and I've turned again and again to the text to check or confirm... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Bookie
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opening adventure
This is a very readable, yet very scholarly, study of the history and development of the English language. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Egomet
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain Candy for the Average English Guy from Wessex
An excellent introduction for anyone who wonders why the English spell words like they do, why accents still exist between the regions, why the Welsh still speak their own tongue,... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Lewcee42
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