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The Adventure of English

Melvyn Bragg is returning to our screens with the final four parts of his remarkable story of the English language, The Adventure of English.

The four programmes trace how the language of the British Isles became a language for the world - the most widely spoken and understood vernacular in history.

In America, Melvyn Bragg traces the story of how the language of a small group of seventeenth-century English immigrants only survived through the most unlikely coincidence – but America was to develop a vigorous new vocabulary, and to spread it around the globe.

He travels to India to see how English began as the language of a few hundred pioneer merchants, and became the force that unified an Empire of a thousand tongues.

In the Caribbean he discovers how a whole flock of new English dialects grew out of a mix of European and African influences, and in Australia he traces how the slang of transported convicts grew in confidence and finally escaped from the shadow of Standard English.

And he sees how in Britain, as English spread and diversified, a succession of self-appointed rule-makers tried to regulate its use.

This is an incredible story of English’s survival against all the odds. Its journey won’t stop here - what does the future hold for this remarkable language?

Melvyn Bragg said: “The story of English is an extraordinary one. It has the characteristics of a bold, exciting adventure. It’s an adventure of tenacity, luck, near extinction on more than one occasion, dazzling flexibility and an extraordinary power to absorb.

“And it’s still going on; new dialects and new forms of English are evolving all the time, all over the world. In these four programmes we follow the near incredible journey which turned a local dialect into a world power.”

The programmes are directed by three BAFTA winning directors: Robert Bee, David Thomas and Nigel Wattis. The music is composed by Howard Goodall.

Programme one starts in America exploring how the language of one empire became the language of another.

American English would not be the King’s English, but the People’s English. The colonists claimed to be preserving the language from corruption, and to speak it better than the English themselves.

But as the language went west, it went wild; America invented new ways of talking, and new words and phrases – a rambunctious and splendiferous new voice for the country.

And in the south, tens of thousands of black slaves who were excluded from the American dream developed their own voice; the Gullah language, an African-English hybrid, still survives as a testament to oppression and dispossession.

Directed by David Thomas

This series ties in with the publication of The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg, published by Hodder & Stoughton (hardback £20).

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