Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On Point -- Inventing English

This came through AnSax Net this morning, though the show originally aired nearly two weeks ago -- NPR's "On Point" interview with Seth Lehrer about the history of the English language. Those of you who are regular Wordhoarders will know that I am nearly daily offended by NPR (which also happens to be one of only two radio stations I can receive consistently on my daily drive to drop of the kids at school), and I certainly can't recommend people listen to "On Point" regularly.

Still, this broadcast is probably worth a listen. Only about the first eleven minutes are medieval, after which time it becomes a discussion of Modern English dominated by Shakespeare. Near the end it becomes difficult to listen to as Ashbrook tries to show how hip he is (in that pathetic NPR way) by playing Tupac and M&M, but most listeners will probably abandon it by then.

One clarification: A school teacher calls in and says that she's been teaching that Latin came into English with the Roman invasion and occupation of England, and asks if that is correct. Lehrer very graciously uses ambiguous language to imply that it is sort-of right, but that you get more Latin influence with the Norman invasion in 1066.

Lehrer is just being polite in his careful mincing of words. The Romans invaded and occupied the Britons (who spoke a Celtic language), and the Anglo-Saxons didn't come to England in force until after the Romans had pulled out completely. Latin, then, comes in English as a language through the later Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons, not really from the Romans. In other words, what she's been teaching is essentially wrong.

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