A homeschooling mom’s dream, King Alfred’s English: A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do includes European and Bible history, etymology, literature and geography – all in one captivating book! Not only does this excellent read neatly incorporate several subjects in one readable volume, it does so with humor and clarity.
I absolutely loved this book!
Did You Know?
This history of the English language answers several of my questions, such as:
- Why are Spanish, Italian, French, etc., called Romance languages? (Because they were all derived from Latin. Rome = Romance)
- Why are words in English spelled with so many silent letters, like the k in knife, knave and knight and the gh in night, cough, and enough? (Those letters were initially pronounced, but those sounds were eventually dropped as the English language simplified and the English wanted to sound more French and less German.)
- Why do some people write Xmas instead of Christ – mas? Isn’t this practically the same thing as denying Christ? (No – Emperor Constantine used the “X”, the traditional Greek initial ‘Chi,’ to stand for the first letter of “Christ” in Greek.)
- Why is the same country sometimes called “Britain” and at other times called “England”? (Because the names actually portray two different people groups who lived in the same place but at different times.)
- Who introduced the idea of B.C. and A.D. to describe time? (The Venerable Bede, called the Father of English history, is credited with this concept.)
A former homeschooling mom herself, the author organizes her book around four major periods of change in the English language that she calls “language invasions.” These are major shifts in English caused by the changing political or cultural climates during the history of Britain. I mean England. These ‘invasions’ added hundreds of words to our language.
How Does English Stack Up?
How does the English language match others in sheer number of words? The author compared a few other countries’ dictionaries for a clue.
- French dictionary – 100,000 words
- Russian dictionary – 130,000 words
- German dictionary – 185,000 words
Are you ready?
- English dictionary – a whopping 615,000 words!
European History Made Clear
As she defines the shifts and changes in English, the author describes the historical and cultural catalysts as well, and brings us along for the ride. The sometimes complicated history of Europe overall and England, particularly, becomes so much clearer under her tutelage. As well, her chapters on the Reformation are enlightening, helping her reader understand more clearly its impact on the European culture of the time and the generations around the world that followed.
Along the way she interjects an abundance of interesting nuggets, such as: after describing how experts gauge the authenticity and reliability of ancient texts (interesting in itself!), the author includes a comparison of the New Testament with other ancient writings, such as Homer’s Iliad and Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. For anyone who regularly shares with those who doubt the veracity of Scripture, this discussion is not-to-be-missed! A concluding quote from the author on the subject:
…anyone who does some honest research will be confronted with the fact that we are in possession of a truly astounding quantity of reliable ancient manuscripts all of which attest to the accuracy of our New Testament. You can argue whether the events took place, but you just can’t argue that these really are the writings of the men who claimed to have witnesses them. –by Laurie J. White, author of King Alfred’s English
Mrs. White also introduces a topic that was new to me: how William Tyndale, through his English translation of the Bible both promoted the Reformation cause and influenced our language with his choice of words and phrases that have now seeped into the fabric of our culture. Familiar phrasings such as “eat, drink and be merry,” “fight the good fight,” and “the salt of the earth” are among Tyndale’s memorable contributions to our literary heritage.
In brief: King Alfred’s English is not to be missed! Children from late elementary on up will enjoy listening to this as a family read-aloud, and it can be assigned as an independent reader from late middle school on up to your high school student studying British history or literature. And I promise – you will learn and enjoy it as much as they do!
No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond. C. S. Lewis
Have you read it yet? What did you learn that surprised you?
In the interests of full-disclosure, I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes, although the opinions given in the review are totally my own.