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The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language Hardcover – 13 Oct 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; First Printing edition (13 Oct. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340829915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340829912
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 24.2 x 3.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 78,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


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, as one might have expected from watching the ITV series on which it was based, and the story is not all one of imperialistic advance. (Andrew Roberts, Spectator)

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

On American English as it evolved Bragg is excellent. He has a novelist's eye for the illuminating is always readable, often thought-provoking, and consistently entertaining. The colour illustrations are a particularly striking feature of the book. (Independent)

Bragg's approachable account...gleams with little gems. His enthusiasm is appealing...he digs beneath modernity and examines our bedrock with a sympathetic eye. It has power and clarity...this adventure is rewarding. (Sunday Herald)

Bragg's excellent radio programmes on the subject ...are the basis of this history of English over the past 1,500 years. Bragg is an expert translator in areas that academics find difficult to popularise...encapsulationg academic knowledge of Old and Middle English he produces a pithy, accessible narrative. (Guardian)

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. (The Observer)

Book Description

Melvyn Bragg's fascinating biography of the English language

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By Scott VINE VOICE on 1 Jan. 2004
Format: Hardcover
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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