LINGUA BLANCA: THE TONGUE WE CALL “MOTHER”

 

Back in the 80s, there was a wonderful magazine called EUROPEAN TRAVEL & LIFE.  I still have about 5 years worth. I can’t bear to throw them away. It was a real reader’s magazine — long, beautifully written, interesting articles, useful information about local life in the "A" list and "B" list cities, recipes, fashion. Wonderful!  I miss it.  It was in one of those issues that a writer referred to England as "Israel for white people".  Completely, unashamedly, brazenly elitist. Those were the years of obsession with Princess Diana and the "Treasure Houses of Britain".  However, I’m sure if you asked the average East Londoner about England being for white people, he would have pissed himself laughing.  For better or worse, England belongs to its immigrants — just like the U.S. 

Yet…for all that modern England belongs to its Caribbeans, East Indians, North Africans, Central Africans — and maybe even some Americans, the origins of English belong to its tribes.  Before English was "english", there were the territorial languages of the Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Picts, Frisians, Celts, Scandinavians, Romans from Rome, and Romans who had assimilated into the local population.  Over the generations, they battled, traded, moved, and married.  And as the different tribes began to blend as a drop of water picks up other drops on the way down the glass to form a puddle at the base, legends were born.  Legends of high kings, forest warriors, and conquests.  To tell those stories, a language was needed — a language to reach as many people as possible.  As stories were passed from generation to generation, a fragile nationalism was born.  English became the language of the people, the bottom of the pyramid that made the top possible.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that I have a lot of books about England and the history of English. History of The English Language was a required course for me in college, but that’s okay.  It was one of my favorite classes. History and literature make a fantastic combination, just like history and art, or history and music.  One is not possible without the other.  Life is full of those kinds of dualities.  So here’s my collection. I’m sure I have more, but this is a good chunk. I still even have the college book I used, but it’s in exile in a box somewhere. 

  1. ORIGINS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: A Social & Linguistic History 1986; Joseph M. Williams
  2. THE EARLY YEARS OF ENGLISH LITERATURE 1964; Barrows, Bletter, & Sullivan
  3. WORDS FROM HISTORY 1968; Isaac Asimov
  4. THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE 1993; Pyles & Algeo
  5. THE KINGDOM BY THE SEA 1983; Paul Theroux
  6. ENGLISH PLACE NAMES 1997; Kenneth Cameron
  7. THE FAMILIES OF WORDS 1972; Mario Pei

2 and 4 are textbooks.  The rest are popular releases.  5 is a wonderful travel book about how Theroux traveled around England — literally.  He circumnavigated England’s coast, observing and interacting with coastal communities, hence the title.  1 was used as the preferred text for the PBS series Origins of The English Language — a wonderful program that I desperately wish they would pull out of the vault, remaster and transfer to DVD.  Oh, the things I could teach my young’uns with a program like that.  They wouldn’t have to suffer my off-key accents and no-key impressions. 6 I have blogged before.  7 reads like a dissertation — all research and documentation; no personality.

4 has way cool end papers that show linguistic symbols. The language of linguistics, to my ears, kinda funny. Alveolo-palatal fricatives.  hih hih hih hih.  Voiceless epiglottal fricative.  Voiceless?  C’mon, you’re pulling my leg.  Bilabial click.  Not as much fun as it sounds. Voiced labial-velar approximant.  What is that? A pick-up line?  Advanced tongue root.  Again — not fun.  Palatoalveolar click.  Stop!  You’re killing me! Some of these words sound more like dentistry than language. 

Asimov’s book (3) is wonderful.  He tells stories about the origins of expressions like "Dutch treat", "gentleman", "rigamarole", and Iron Curtain.  I was lucky to find this book in a random box of books being withdrawn from the San Antonio Library.  I used to love their book sales.  It was like grocery shopping — except with better prices.  I lived for those sales.  A lot of what I have came from those sales. That was the B.A. period.  (Before Amazon.com).

2 is a standard college reader. No illustrations. Every page groans with the weight of text.  The discussion questions at the end of each chapter are more like oral exam questions.  I don’t have a problem with any of that.  A good professor knows how to use the information from a book like this, not just regurgitate the information contained within.

A book I want to add to my collection (like I don’t have enough??) is Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, a.k.a. Ecclesiastical History of The English People by the Venerable Bede.  An interesting twist in the Latin title, I think, is the word "ecclesiastica" — a Greek word. 

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The Greater Chronicle; Bede's Letter to Egbert (Oxford World's Classics)

My collection at SHELFARI

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