Meredith's Reviews > The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg
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Jul 10, 2015

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Read in April, 2012

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're a massive country, they're just more spread out. In my city alone there are three common accents belonging to people born in the area, and we DO have regionalisms, thanks very much. Also, Bragg makes the statement that "Americans still love spelling," which is ridiculous, and I can only assume it's based on our National Spelling Bee and the fact that parents push their kids to extremes to win this (much more related to winning than spelling). Then later he made a statement of the early convicts sent to Australia which was the opposite of something in A Commonwealth of Thieves and I trust the specialist book rather more.

I think that there was also some very important information that he left out. He relates the word father in numerous European languages to the word in Sanskrit but doesn't mention the consonant shifts which account for the Ps shifting to Fs and Vs. He doesn't mention consonant shifts anywhere in the book and yet expects readers to understand how close father is to the sanskrit (which is really close to pater). This is fun, relatively light non-fiction, not something that's going to bring in many readers who know much about the developments and splits of language, so I think it should have been included. Also, he could have summarized it in a few sentences, so it's not like it wouldn't have really lengthened the book to include that titbit.

It IS a generally good book, with lots of interesting information and perspectives (though some are questionable), but I think it needed a little more information about language that's not just cultural/societal.
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