Good Reads | The Adventure of English

The Boyfriend and I have a lot of random things in common.  For example, besides just learning and speaking different languages, we're also interested in the history and evolution of different languages.  (Random fact: I looked into and began the process of applying to PhD programs in Linguistics before deciding to go to law school.)

So it shouldn't surprise you when I tell you that not too long ago - probably on a Friday night because that's how cool nerdy we are - we got into a discussion about English.  I said that it was pretty cool that a language like English could survive for centuries while other languages like Latin died out.  He quickly corrected me ("It didn't die out.  It evolved.") then handed me a book called The Adventure of English.

It took one round-trip flight to New York for me to finish it.  As soon as I opened it, I was hooked.  Bragg tells the story as if the English language were some great adventurer and he's writing the biography of English the Conqueror.  I was riveted.  So many little things about our language make so much sense now - like how the American accent developed (as opposed to the British/Scottish/Irish/Whatever accents that all the original settlers had), why we have British and American spellings of the same words, and the origins of many of our words.  I totally expected this to be just slightly more interesting than a text book and did not anticipate and adventure story.  Here's a look at what I mean:

"It would be a lengthy, bloody, martyr-strewn and bitter fight that English would have to claim its proper place in the Church.  This infiltration was an omen.  It came in quietly and stealthily through the beasts."

You know what he's describing in that quote?  Religious stories from the thirteenth century that portrayed various animals and used their behaviors as a basis to teach Christian morality.  Most of these were written in Latin but a tiny few were written in English.  Hence, the "infiltration" Braggs refers to above.  Who writes about a language like that??  Who, I ask you???  Mutha-effin' Melvyn Bragg, that's who.

If you're looking to change up your reading list and add something educational but interesting, I highly recommend The Adventure of English.  Especially if you like languages or nerdy trivia (there's lots of trivia-like facts in the book!).


  1. Lovely babe! Let`s follow each other!


  2. how languages develop and form FASCINATE me but I always wanted reccs on what to read to learn more because, let's face it, it can be a dry subject. thank you for this post!

  3. As you might imagine, language is a common conversation topic with me and (my Scottish/Spanish speaker) Duncan. Correct me if I'm wrong, but we're under the impression that the American accent is actually the least changed of the English speaking accents - that we still speak in the style of the colonialist, while language on the mainland (Britain) continued to evolve. Also that we use a lot of the French spellings for things, while the Brits (in light of their torrid history with France) wanted their own independent spelling... Anyway, I guess my point is that we're language nerds too and I'd love to borrow that book! :)

  4. Have you ever watched the Stephen Fry program on language? I feel like you'd get a huge kick out of it, based on this post.

    Here's the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b015d4qz

    I'll be adding this book to my Goodreads To Read list. I was just thinking today that I'd really like to read more non-fiction this year.

  5. Very nice, I'll add this one to my list. I'm always looking for a good read that is informative as well!

  6. Bah! This book looks awesome! And thank you for making all of us nerds feel more awesome. ;)

  7. I've always wanted to know why the American accent differs from the British!

  8. I took linguistics in college and had a terrible time with it. I was confused the entire time. The history of language sounds really interesting though. I like words and their origins and how they feel when I say them.

  9. Yup, that is a really good book! You guys are so cute!

  10. i love that you can be nerdy together! that's what's cool.

  11. That's so interesting! I'm definitely going to try reading that. Already put it on hold in the library :)


  12. wow your background is so interesting. I'm in a similar situation--have acceptances to law school, but have been debating applying to phd programs. definitely interested in reading your blog now!

  13. Oh my gosh this looks incredible. I'm always on the lookout for new reads, so this is on my list!!!

  14. Love the battlefield analogy with the English language. Never would've thought of it like that before. And your boyfriend's right, our English language has evolved and still continues to do so!


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