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The Adventure of English: 500 Ad to 2000 the Biography of a Language

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,790 ratings  ·  236 reviews
Presents a biography of the English language.
Paperback, 354 pages
Published November 1st 2005 by Sceptre (first published 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Elaine
When reading this review, please bear in mind that I have a doctorate in Linguistics with a specialty in history of English and sociolinguistics (also schizophrenic speech--which may be relevant here if Bragg is as delusional as he sounds).

Bragg says that Anglo Saxon intended to become the most dominant language in the world. Of course, Anglo Saxon was a Germanic dialect in the 7th century, a declined language and totally unrecognizable as English unless one is taught it by a trained scholar. In...more
Guy
A history of the development of the English language from the 5th Century to the present, told as if English was a person and this was its biography.

So, this is a good example of why you shouldn't try to turn a "popular science" TV series into a book. The biography device probably works on the screen with an energetic and passionate presenter, but it falls flat when you read it. The passion is still there, but the overall effect is a little juvenile. Add to that the apparent lack of an editor wi...more
Ruben
Jan 30, 2009 Ruben rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: language lovers
Shelves: 2008
Oh man, for a language fan like me this is like gardening (for people who love gardening). It's fascinating to trace my words, even these words, back through the centuries watching as they were picked up from different places and in different contexts along the way. What a cool language we speak! How flexible, pliable and bendy our tongue!

But seriously, this could easily have been a snooze-a-thon. However, Melvyn Bragg's enthusiasm for this particular linguistic history is contagious, and with...more
Andrew Skretvedt
Any user of the English language really owes it to themselves, at some point in their lives, to listen carefully to this!

It's also available in book form, which I've never read, and was adapted into a multipart TV series for the BBC (also presented in the past on the History International channel).

Melvyn Bragg, being also a well-known TV presenter in the UK, presented the TV adaptation himself, and lends much richness to it. For the audio CD version, Robert Powell delivered an unabridged present...more
Adam Wiggins
Popularly-accessible works on linguistics are rare enough that I'm inclined to rate them highly just for existing. This one seems to be an oddball companion to a BBC documentary, but I'll take what I can get.

It covers the history of English through its contact with (and typically, battle for domination with) the Celtic language, the Scandinavian languages (during the Danish occupation of Britain), French (during the Norman occupation of Britain). When Britain finally returned to independent rule...more
Meredith
I read, and greatly enjoyed, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English last year, and was a bit worried that The Adventure of English would be highly repetitive. They are, however, very different books, the first being much more philological and the second being cultural.

While Bragg's work is generally good and enjoyable, there were some issues. For one thing, there is the notion that the US has fewer distinct accents/dialects than Britain. We have just as many, but because we'...more
Hans
I really wanted to like this book especially since I enjoyed "Mother Tongue" By Bill Bryson so much. But at times this book has some real low points. I am frustrated by many of the linguistic theories proposed about the future of English and I disagree with most of them. I strongly believe that now that English has become the Language of business it will not only become increasingly difficult to dislodge it as the global language, but the need to learn it to communicate with even non-native Engl...more
Marius van Blerck
A gem. I listened to the audiobook, superbly narrated by the actor Robert Powell. The book tells the fascinating story of the relentless growth of a polyglot mongrel language, never ashamed to borrow or steal words from every language it encountered. Essentially, that seems to have been its greatest strength, insulating it from attack, and allowing it to evolve into the marvellous tongue of Chaucer, Tindale, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Dickens, Twain, Wodehouse, Waugh and Tolkien, to say nothing of...more
Mignon
I've listened to this audiobook at least three times, probably more. It's one of my favorites. The reader has a great voice and the book is filled with interesting tidbits. Every time I listen, I pick up something I missed before (or had forgotten).
Chrissie Willicombe
I devoured this book. Absolutely fascinating.
Jeff Yoak
It's been a long time since I enjoyed a book this much. I was already pretty familiar with the author from the BBC podcast, In Our Time. I've long been impressed by Bragg's ability to discuss a wide variety of topics with intelligence spanning humanities, social sciences, history, math and natural sciences, but I hadn't noticed until recently that he is an author and most of his books seems to be on topics surrounding the English language.

Bragg traces the development of English from a minor Germ...more
Sally
I don't think I've read a non-fiction book in a long time that I have enjoyed as much as this one. There were a number of times I wanted to write a review as I was reading, but settled for telling every one I could about how enjoyable it was as I went along.

I have done a double-dose on this book. First I got the audiobook, read by Robert Powell. His reading is fantastic, but even though he read so well, I found I was wanting to SEE the Old English text that seemed to flow effortlessly from him,...more
Johnrh
Audiobook.
Audio: Excellent. Clear, crisp, enunciation. Narrator has a British accent, (and why not, the author is English), and was VERY easily understood by this American. This book is a SPECIAL TREAT as it is actually BETTER TO LISTEN to it than to read it. This is because of the innumerable authentic-sounding pronunciations of English word derivations and origins throughout history. Even if the words are spelled phonetically in the book (and I don't know if they are), I say you cannot beat ha...more
Mag
A delightful, erudite and informative read, even though I happened to spend a whole term studying the history of the English language before. It discusses English of the British Isles with a special place for Welsh and Scottish varieties, of America, Wild West, India, West Indies and Australia. A wonderful book to be read many times, with the following conclusion:
‘An adventure should have an ending but there is no conclusion to the astounding and moving journey of the English language, from its...more
Tamara
Very weak. I picked this up because I really enjoy Melvin Bragg's radio show "In Our Time," because he seems to have a knack for asking the interesting, but still rigorous, questions. This is just plodding and cutesy though. Not any particularly interesting angles on the language or on linguistics in general - yes, English has a lot of loan words - and not very compelling as history. It did make me want to find out more about the Reformation though. I guess that's something.
Judy
I had a great linguistics class in grad school taught by a visiting professor from Princeton. This book could have been the print version of his lectures. While I thought the early chapters were a trifle dull (I never could make myself love Beowulf), I loved everything from Chaucer on. The author shows, among other things, how writers like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, and Mark Twain impacted the language, how slavery and colonization added to our vocabulary, and how the spread of Englis...more
Marin
This book started slowly (try as I might, I just can't get excited about Vikings and Celts), but after it picked up, it was absolutely terrific. The English language is the main character in this non-fiction book, and the author cheers it along with zest. Through wars, empires, printing presses, and social revolutions, English always wins.

I especially loved it in audio format because the reader was able to demonstrated the different pronunciations and accents. I'm not sure that all of the accent...more
Thomas Allen
"Wow!" That's really all I can say after the last word of this book! Throughout the book, the author treats the language as a living, breathing, growing entity. And after experiencing this book, I'd say he's right! At times, English is facing persecution and extinction. At other times, English is rolling roughshod over whole nations. The author deals in details of history to make his personification of English stand on two feet. After this book, I have a new found pride to speak a language that...more
Juliet Wilson
Subtitled the Biography of a Language, this brilliant book traces the development of the English language from it's earliest days as a dialect of an obscure tribe in northern Europe to its current day status as global language.

Bragg is excellent at weaving the history of the language in with all the strands of history around it. He traces for example how English more or less went into hiding during the French speaking days after the Norman conquest and how the adventurous nature of the American...more
Mel Healy
Its subtitle is "The biography of a language", which at a superficial level seems to sum up what the English language is: a character, a person almost. A character with a life history.

That's not quite how language works of course, and Melvyn Bragg's brilliant book (and before that his radio and TV series) is far more subtle than that.

In a sense it's the study of linguistic DNA, of how one particular language evolves and mutates from generation to generation - less an individual biography, more a...more
Amanda
Extraordinarily rich and passionate biographical look at the English language, from its unwritten origins to Beowulf, 1066, The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare, through to the discovery of America, the occupation of India, the slave trade, Austrialian deportation and the internet. Bragg cleared up several misconceptions I had been harbouring and completely changed the way I look at my mother tongue and language in general. A linguistic treat.
taarak
Apr 16, 2007 taarak rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any speaker of English
Best book I've read about the origins of the English language.

This is 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 lives continue to change the extraordinary language that is English.
Shaun
Brought together two of my favorite academic passions - history and language. I listened to this as an audio book and I think it made a world of difference. The narrator had quite a talent for language and was able to bring to life various dialects and even old forms of English. A nice brief overview of the evolution of the language in relation to the historical and cultural impacts that have influenced it.
Polly
The Adventure of English traces the history and evolution of the English language, from its first arrival on English shores from Frisia to modern days. It's premise is that English language's adaptability and ability to absorb words from other languages has made it a truly global language. Bragg traces through major influences on the language from the Norman occupation adding thousands of French words through to modern day English spoken in places like America, Australia and Singapore. Along the...more
Ness
Heard this book being reviewed on Triple R and the reviewer raved about how thrilling this read is... she is right. Chock full of facts, jam-packed with information, covering such different fields as History, Linguistics, Literature (this tour of the langauge through Literature is fantastic in itself), Etymology etc etc etc.
For me, a rare consumer of this sort of non-fiction I found I read 1-2 chapters at a time as I needed to digest the amount and range of information.
Bragg writes in a conversa...more
Kate
An absolute delight and a surprisingly quick read.
Ellen
Inspired by my students' research papers, I took a detour into the world of non-fiction and indulged a fascination of mine: English. Like many readers, writers, and teachers, I have a love for the written word and have always enjoyed etymology. Bragg's research tells stories covering centuries of growth in my native tongue. I came to this book via audio and truly was impressed in the reader's ability to capture accent and dialect from English worldwide. There were times, however, that I felt I w...more
David Everling
Excellent book for getting a sense of the multi-cultural history and patterns of the English language. Well written (and well read in the audiobook), with a pacing not so easily bogged down by inspection of trivial details as other books on language history. In other words, the style of this book does a good job aspiring to its title, and the examples that are detailed are usually quite interesting.

An example of an interesting linguistic tidbit relevant to everyday speech (why we don't "eat cow...more
Your Need To Read
Full review here
http://www.yourneedtoread.blogspot.co...


I have been recommending this book to everyone. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but this book was fascinating. It tells the story of how our language evolved from ancient Sanskrit up through the centuries into what we speak today. I know that sounds boring, but if you like history, you will love this book.

One of the reasons I loved this book is because I actually listened to it on the audio version. If you have never heard Old English s...more
anday androo
Well, it's hard not to compare this with Bryson's Mother Tongue. Where Brysons politicized and bolded the demonization of English corruption, Bragg includes it but with the placidity of a historian.

I enjoyed the final chapters more than the rest. Hearing the music and clever usages of creoles, pidgins, and loan words in poetry, business, and the street, was pleasing to the ear and expanded my knowledge of the use of English in the world today.

A couple things seriously bothered me about this book...more
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Melvyn Bragg, Baron Bragg, FRSL, FRTS (born 6 October 1939) is an English author, broadcaster and media personality who, aside from his many literary endeavours, is perhaps most recognised for his work on The South Bank Show.

Bragg is a prolific novelist and writer of non-fiction, and has written a number of television and film screenplays. Some of his early television work was in collaboration wit...more
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“We shall fight on the beaches,” said Churchill in 1940, “we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Only “surrender” is not Old English. That, in itself, might be significant.” 0 likes
“That, too, is part of this adventure — there are both casualties and survivors as this hungry creature, English, demanded more and more subjects.” 0 likes
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