26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
How English survived to become an international language, 9 Jan. 2005
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.