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The Adventure of English - episode two

Programme two of Melvyn Bragg's series on the history of the English language returns to Britain, and tells the story of how in the eighteenth-century Jonathan Swift led a movement to fix and regulate the language.

Doctor Johnson produced the first great English dictionary; Robert Lowth led a cohort of grammarians who imposed new rules on the language; and an Irish actor called Thomas Sheridan took it upon himself to teach the whole country how to speak properly.

Robert Burns, William Wordsworth and Jane Austen all contributed to the story of the language, and how English responded to the new inventions and social upheaval of the Industrial Revolution.

English continued to change and develop - in Victorian times, the new Cockney rhyming slang and the double-entendres of the music hall were examples of its inexhaustible inventiveness. But they weren’t welcome in polite society. The way that people talked and the words that they used became a badge of class and breeding; and social death could result from dropping an ‘h’ or using an inappropriate word.

Directed by Nigel Wattis

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