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The Secret History of the English Language
The Secret History of the English Language
by M. J. Harper
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.04

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A massive disappointment, 13 May 2008
I bought this book because I'd just read Stephen Oppenheimer's "The Origins of the British" and was fascinated by his take on the history of the English language. It made so much sense, I wanted to look into it further. I came across Harper's book and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Seemed to be.

Now I'll be the first to agree that academia needs a swift kick up the backside but, frankly, this ain't the book to do it. Harper spends most of his time slagging off academics, perhaps justifiably, but does so in such a smug, self-serving manner that it starts to grate within the first 20 pages. Meanwhile, those same 20 pages are filled with sloppy reasoning and throw-away statements, and not a single reference. This goes on for the entire text. Now, surely, if you want to beat the academics at their own game, you have to play by their rules. Any other approach and you'll be laughed out of court. Yet Harper singularly fails to provide one argument that would persuade me, let alone an Oxbridge professor. Word of advice Mike: know your enemy...

Not only is there the criminal absence of a bibliography or any other form of supporting evidence, the entire premise of Harper's argument is "It is as it was unless there is bone-chilling evidence to the contrary". Essentially, "This is right unless you can prove otherwise". Isn't that like arguing that God exists because there is no proof he doesn't? I always thought that was a logical fallacy.

This is all a real shame, because I so wanted to like this book. I agree with the author that the history of language in the UK as it is taught is seriously flawed. There is almost no evidence for the oft used argument that pre-Saxon England was Celtic-speaking, and the fact that you can count the number of Celtic loan-words in English on your fingers is pretty damn good evidence against. But Harper seems to want to deny the academic arguments so vehemently that he throws the baby out with the bath water. Arguing that English developed quite separately from Old English (which he conveniently refers to as "Anglo-Saxon" all the way through) seems like clutching at straws. Oppenheimer's view that pre-Saxon England already spoke a Germanic language that the Anglo-Saxon languages contributed to to form Old English seems much more plausible to me. The idea that everyone in the country spoke a separate language to Old English yet we don't see that language written down until many, many years after the Norman Conquest seems quite ridiculous. I'm sorry, I couldn't believe "The Da Vinci Code" when it tried to convince me that there were secret traditions hidden from us for hundreds of years, and I can't believe this argument either.


Saxons, Vikings and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland
Saxons, Vikings and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland
by Bryan Sykes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 28.10

81 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Buyer beware, 29 Mar 2007
While this is a good little book, it should be pointed out that this is simply the American edition of "Blood of the Isles". The content is exactly the same and offers nothing extra.

Quite why Amazon are offering the two as a pair above, I do not know.


The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language
The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language
by Michael John Harper
Edition: Hardcover

88 of 100 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A massive disappointment, 29 Mar 2007
I bought this book because I'd just read Stephen Oppenheimer's "The Origins of the British" and was fascinated by his take on the history of the English language. It made so much sense, I wanted to look into it further. I came across Harper's book and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Seemed to be.

Now I'll be the first to agree that academia needs a swift kick up the backside but, frankly, this ain't the book to do it. Harper spends most of his time slagging off academics, perhaps justifiably, but does so in such a smug, self-serving manner that it starts to grate within the first 20 pages. Meanwhile, those same 20 pages are filled with sloppy reasoning and throw-away statements, and not a single reference. This goes on for the entire text. Now, surely, if you want to beat the academics at their own game, you have to play by their rules. Any other approach and you'll be laughed out of court. Yet Harper singularly fails to provide one argument that would persuade me, let alone an Oxbridge professor. Word of advice Mike: know your enemy...

Not only is there the criminal absence of a bibliography or any other form of supporting evidence, the entire premise of Harper's argument is "It is as it was unless there is bone-chilling evidence to the contrary". Essentially, "This is right unless you can prove otherwise". Isn't that like arguing that God exists because there is no proof he doesn't? I always thought that was a logical fallacy.

This is all a real shame, because I so wanted to like this book. I agree with the author that the history of language in the UK as it is taught is seriously flawed. There is almost no evidence for the oft used argument that pre-Saxon England was Celtic-speaking, and the fact that you can count the number of Celtic loan-words in English on your fingers is pretty damn good evidence against. But Harper seems to want to deny the academic arguments so vehemently that he throws the baby out with the bath water. Arguing that English developed quite separately from Old English (which he conveniently refers to as "Anglo-Saxon" all the way through) seems like clutching at straws. Oppenheimer's view that pre-Saxon England already spoke a Germanic language that the Anglo-Saxon languages contributed to to form Old English seems much more plausible to me. The idea that everyone in the country spoke a separate language to Old English yet we don't see that language written down until many, many years after the Norman Conquest seems quite ridiculous. I'm sorry, I couldn't believe "The Da Vinci Code" when it tried to convince me that there were secret traditions hidden from us for hundreds of years, and I can't believe this argument either.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 9, 2008 4:27 AM BST


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