Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices – British Library (18 January and 29 March 2011)

Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices: another great educational exhibition from the British Library!

I learnt that 400 million people around the world speak English as their first language and 1.4 billion as their second language. How astonishing is that? I also learnt that more than half of all the web pages are written in English, that ‘google’ became a verb in 1999 and that ‘cellulite’ was officially recognised in 1968 (that must have been a slap to those Swinging Sixties women!).

I visited the (interactive and fun) exhibition twice and I wish I’d gone a third time, there was so much to absorb.

From the dialects of Germanic tribes in the 5th and 6th centuries to the English of Anglo-Saxon England to the language we speak today, the English language is continually evolving. New words are constantly created (some, for example, by the younger generations keen to create their own coded language) and foreign words are regularly assimilated.

I listened to various recordings of British people from all walks of life – local dialects, regional accents and immigrants. All having a part to play in the way the language is evolving.

I listened to famous speeches from Muhammad Ali; Gandhi; Thatcher; J. F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill among others and marveled at how they used language to ‘manipulate’ their audience – through anaphora or intonation for example. Fascinating.

And I learnt that T.V. brought swearing to the masses!

But the real highlight was the copy of Beowulf on display.

Admission was free.

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