The Adventure of English (2003) ITV

Episode 6: Speaking Proper

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Video Description

The Age of Reason began, and English scholars of mathematics and science like Isaac Newton started publishing their books in English instead of Latin. Jonathan Swift would attempt to save the English language from perpetual change, followed by Samuel Johnson who would write the A Dictionary of the English Language, made up of 43000 words and definitions, written in seven years and published in 1755.

Though the upper and lower classes found no reason to change or improve their grammar, the middle class used it to their advantage in joining polite society. William Cobbett, a son of the lower middle class and writer of Rural Rides, advising those who wish to rise above their station that writing and speaking properly was essential.

As English began to replace Gaelic in Scotland it took on its own character, using "bonnie" from the French "bon" and "kolf" from the Dutch for "club", the probable origin for "golf". Several other words came from Gaelic, including "ceilidh", "glen", "loch", and "whisky". Pronunciation became an issue all over the United Kingdom, as some sounds could be spelt in several different ways, while one spelling could have several articulations. Irish actor Thomas Sheridan wrote British Education, a book that attempted to educate all English speakers in the proper pronunciation of words. However, some Scots were offended that their speech might be considered second-class and the Scottish poet Robert Burns, son of a poor farmer, became the hero of the Scottish language. William Wordsworth also became a champion of the ordinary peoples' English, suggesting that poetry need not be written using haughty vocabulary.

The turn of the 19th century marked a period when women were more educated and their speech and literacy improved. Novels were thought to be a frivolous occupation for females until Jane Austen wrote about the capabilities of such works in her own novels; her works were highly proper, often using words like "agreeable", "appropriate", "discretion", and "propriety".
Then came the Industrial Revolution and the language that came along with it. The steam engine changed the meaning of words like "train", "locomotive", and "tracks" to be associated with the new technology. Along with this age came a change of social situation; the term "slum" came into use, and Cockney rhyming slang became a new form of speech for those in the lower class.

Documentary Description

The Adventure of English is a British television series (ITV) on the history of the English language presented by Melvyn Bragg as well as a companion book, also written by Bragg. The series ran in 2003.

The series and the book are cast as an adventure story, or the biography of English as if it were a living being, covering the history of the language from its modest beginnings around 500 AD as a minor Germanic dialect to its rise as a truly established global language.

In the television series, Bragg explains the origins and spelling of many words based on the times in which they were introduced into the growing language that would eventually become modern English.

Melvyn Bragg travels through Britain to tell the story of how an insignificant German dialect, which only arrived in the country in the fifth century, evolved into a language which is now spoken and understood by more people than any other around the world. We trace English from its humble roots to its flowering in the writing of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

English is a global language. Every day, in cities all around the world, English is used in encounters between people of different countries. It is estimated that well over a thousand million people around the world speak, or have a working understanding of, English.

This is its story. It's a story that really reads like an adventure of extraordinary survival, invasion, near extinction on more than one occasion, and astonishing flexibility.

Episode Listing

1. Birth of a Language
2. English Goes Underground
3. The Battle for the Language of the Bible
4. This Earth, This Realm, This England
5. English in America
6. Speaking Proper
7. The Language of Empire
8. Many Tongues Called English, One World Language

Rated: PG
Duration: 416 mins.
Released: 2007

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