The Adventure of English (2003) ITV

Episode 3: The Battle for the Language of the Bible

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Video Description

In the early to mid 1300s, English fought to be the language of the Christian Bible through the efforts of theologian John Wycliffe, who opposed the church's use of a Latin scripture because it prevented most of the population from reading the bible for themselves. Though Wycliffe died before English became the official language of the bible, Bragg discusses how his translation eventually led to the transition of various Latin words into the English language, including "emperor," "justice,""profession," "suddenly" or "angel."

Eventually, Henry V of England would use his power in order to create this English language bible in the early 1400s. However, the difficulty of creating a common language for all the English dialects in the United Kingdom had to be addressed since there was such an array of spellings and pronunciations. Bragg explains, "The '-ing' participle, as in 'running,' was said as '-and' in the North, '-end' in the East Midlands, and '-ind' in the West Midlands. So 'running' could also be said as 'runnand,' 'runnind,' and 'runnend.'" The number of spellings was even greater, Bragg offers sixteen different ways in which the word meaning "church" had been spelt at the time, including "kerke," "kirc," "chirche," "cherge" and "schyrche."

The Chancery had the duty of creating an official spelling for each spoken word, much of which is still used in modern English. Still, the spelling was confusing because of the debates that went on during this period, for example many words wound up being spelt as to their roots like the words "debt" and "doubt" which came from the French language. The word "rhyme" was given an "h" simply because the word "rhythm" already had one. Around this time the Great Vowel Shift also took place, which altered spoken English from the Old English pronunciation to a more modern sounding form.

The possession of an English bible had become illegal once more and William Tyndale left the country to write his translation of the bible from the original Hebrew and Greek version, which he published in 1526. Many of his sayings are still used today, including, "scapegoat," "the apple of mine eye," "eat, drink and be merry," and words such as "beautiful" and "zealous."
Eventually, Henry VIII of England wished for the creation of an English bible and a new Church of England so that he could divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon. In time, King James I would create an official version of the bible which had become wide spread with various versions. This bible deliberately used words like "ye" and "thou," which were no longer in common use, to create the sense that the words written would appear to be ancient, to have authority.

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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