Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language Hardcover – 23 Sep 2010
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rich in fascinating details which give us an unprecedented picture of the extent to which the King James Bible has influenced the English language ... Every language learner will be delighted by the amount of interesting information found in Begat (Sanka Gilgoric, Babel)
Crystal's volume is entertaining and informative. (BBC History Magazine)
Wonderful book. (The Guardian)
Entertaining. (Christopher Howse, Daily Telegraph)
a book which has insights and delights on every page. (David Norton, Scottish Journal of Theology)
About the Author
David Crystal is the world's best known linguist. He is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. His books include Linguistics, Language and Religion (1965), The Stories of English (Penguin, 2004) The Fight for English (OUP 2006), and Just a Phrase I'm Going Through: my Life in Language (Routledge 2009). He has written extensively on religious language, including 'Linguistics and Liturgy' for Church Quarterly in 1969 and 'Language in Church' for The Tablet in 1985.
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Now I must confess to reading this from a certain angle; I'm a Christian, and have always been interested in the accuracy of translations of the Bible, as well as the history of how the collection of books (because it is not very accurate to refer to the compendium as a single book) was compiled. Now Crystal is not a theologian, so there is no real analysis comparing the KJV to such sources and the Masoretic Scripts or the Septuagint or any particular comment on what is a 'good' translation. Instead, what we have are numerous examples of how phrases found in the KJV have found their way into the English vernacular, as well as possible reasons for why they have stuck.
Crystal's hypothesis is that the dominant factor is rhythm, and this is noted by looking at some earlier English translations of the Bible (which were banned by the catholic church) such as Wycliffe where the wording differed slightly and seeing which version caught on. The style of the book is quite repetitive, which could make for a dull reading if going through it cover to cover. Rather, I preferred to dip into it and just do a couple of chapters a day, intermittent with other reading.
That said, I did enjoy it a lot and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the English language. Crystal's sources are very broad and include numerous references to online blogs. It may be questioned whether some of the modern cultural references will stand the test of time as well as the idioms discussed are, and I got the distinct impression that this was meant to be read at this time (the 400th anniversary of the publication of KJV).
Why should the fact that a particular phrase or saying predates the KJV mean that the Bible was not its origin: might it not have been so via formal or informal translation from the Latin or wherever? Why should the fact that a particular phrase or saying postdates the KJV mean that the Bible was not its origin: might it not be the corruption of a Biblical phrase?
Worst of all, Crystal frequently resorts to giving arbitrary lists of phrases or derivations of phrases culled from searches he has done on Google. This is a lazy approach and furnishes very weak an argument: the quirky company name based on a corruption of a Biblical phrase may be here today and gone tomorrow and thus not suggestive of anything in particular. The approach suggests that Crystal was more interested in finishing his book to a publishing deadline, the 400th anniversary of the first appearance of the appearance of the KJV, than in writing a scholarly account of the continuing influence of the KJV on the English Language.