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Book Review: The Adventure of English


[This is a book review I’ve written for next month’s Die Neue Szene, the local scene-rag, in case anyone feels like reading it.]




“The Adventure of English : The Biography of a Language” (Melvyn Bragg)



£ 8,99

Hodder & Stoughton, London

2004


In this adaptation of his 25-part BBC Radio program, The Routes of English, British author Melvyn Bragg introduces us to his personal image of the English language. Alone from the title, one can see that he views his land’s language not as a mere method of communication, but as a living, evolving entity. Covering its arrival in England with Germanic tribes from Europe, to its current status as the global lingua franca, the book really does become an exciting, expansive adventure.




Mr. Bragg does an excellent job of personalizing the subject. One feels that English could very well have “died” during several historical periods, and possessed unique abilities that ensured its survival. Mr. Bragg manages to place the language, rather than its speakers, at the center of the action.


This book is not without its faults, however. There are enormous amounts of information covered, and sometimes it is boring, quite frankly. Long lists of words that came from other languages, for example, could probably better have been shortened without disturbing the overall effect, although Mr. Bragg does a respectable job of presenting them in a cohesive narrative. At other times, important subjects are barely touched upon. Old English, for example, is covered almost exclusively in third person, and is never presented to the reader in any detail.


Despite its shortcomings, The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language is just that: An entertaining adventure, full of interesting tidbits, trivia, and historical perspectives. It is certainly worth picking up, if you have £8.99 laying around that you’d otherwise just throw out in the street somewhere.

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