British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Story of English, The

Synopsis
1: The diversity of ‘varieties’ of English in use throughout the world including public school/Oxbridge, post-colonial in India and Africa, feminist, high-tech, American, Pacific Basin, gay, academic. There are interviews with journalists, academics and statesmen.
2: The history of the English language from its development from the language of the English Angles to the medium of medieval English mystery plays. Examines the contribution of Celtic, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, the admixture of the Vikings’ language, the simplification of the grammatical system, the influence of the French-speaking Normans and the role of printing.
3: The English language in the days of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and how it was brought into the New World by the pioneering Elizabethans. Demonstrates how Shakespeare and his contemporaries would have sounded (Peter Hall reads a passage in Elizabethan English), and how the Authorised Version of the Bible was made.
4: The nature of Scots, its history and its dispersion to Ulster, the United States and the world. Particular attention is paid to the role of Ulster Scots in Philadelphia and Appalachia. Considers the contribution of Gaelic to Scots and the destruction of Gaelic by English.
5: How the major developments in America during the 19th and early 20th century provided modern English with metaphor. Events mentioned are the end of the War of Independence, the growing together of America and Canada, life of the Mississippi, the Gold Rush, cowboys and the railways. Most influential of all on the language was the enormous influx of immigrants before World War 1. Discusses German and Yiddish vocabulary.
6: Charts the influence of black English on standard English focusing on the debt of white American English to black English. Looks at Gullah which is still spoken off the East Coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Gullah derives from the West Coast of Africa, in particular from the creole and pidgin in use in Sierre Leone. Notes the use of pidgin as a common language among slaves from varied linguistic communities. Once transported to the Confederate states, a creole developed on the plantations which, in turn, influenced the Southern white American English. A second wave of influence came with the emancipation of the black communities who, in the 20th century, brought jive or street talk to the north-east coast of the USA from where it spread throughout the world.
7: Concentrates on Cockney English and its historical role, with an emphasis on the development of Australian English. In addition to describing certain characteristics of Cockney - its vowel sounds, rhyming and back-slang, borrowings from Yiddish and Hindi - notes how an approximation of Cockney was the speech of all Londoners until the second half of the eighteenth century when certain accents became identified with certain classes. It also examines the role of Britain’s public schools in this process. Part 2 moves to Australia where British convicts, many of them speaking with a Cockney accent, were sent. Examines Aboriginal languages and other British regional dialects and their influence on Australian English. Comparisons are drawn between Australian, South African and New Zealand English.
8: Examines the relationship of English to Gaelic and the history of English in Ireland. Charts the decline of Gaelic and the linguistic colonisation of Ireland since the Anglo-Norman invasions of the twelfth century. Refers to the ways of colonisation under Elizabeth I, Cromwell and William of Orange as well as the decline of Gaelic by massive 19th-century emigrations from Ireland to Britain and the USA. Refers to Irish writers James Joyce and J M Synge and their role in Irelands’s linguistic history. Ends with a brief comment on the possible future of Gaelic in the present situation in Belfast, including the learning of Gaelic by prisoners as a political gesture.
9: The development of English pidgins and creoles, black English in Britain and Indian English. Characterises pidgin as an improvised contact language which can help unify communications, as is the case in Papua New Guinea where there are over 700 tribal languages. Refers to situations in which a pidgin becomes a creole using the example of Krio in Sierra Leone. In the West Indies, Jamaica especially, the use of creole has become a political issue. Jamaican English is being used as a literary medium supported by writers such as E R Braithwaite and Mervyn Morris. Considers the use of black English in Britain. Notes that there is a considerable distinction between the attitudes to standard English of the ethnic groups from the Caribbean compared with those from the Indian sub-continent. Ends with a brief look at Indian English and its influence on standard English, including a debate on whether Indian writers should use standard or Indian English.
Language
English
Country
Great Britain
Medium
Video
Technical information
Colour / Sound
Year of release
1998
Duration
55 each episode
Availability
Sale

Credits

Producer
Pater Dale; Vivian Ducat
Writer
Robert McCrum
Contributor
Peter Hall; William Cran
Cast
Robert MacNeil 

Additional Details

Production type
Documentary/Educational/News
Subjects
English language and literature
Keywords
English language; Shakespeare, William (1564-1616); Elizabethan English

Sections

Title
English-speaking world, An
Synopsis
1: The diversity of ‘varieties’ of English in use throughout the world including public school/Oxbridge, post-colonial in India and Africa, feminist, high-tech, American, Pacific Basin, gay, academic. There are interviews with journalists, academics and s

Title
Mother tongue, The
Synopsis
2: The history of the English language from its development from the language of the English Angles to the medium of medieval English mystery plays. Examines the contribution of Celtic, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, the admixture of the Vikings’ langu

Title
Muse of fire, A
Synopsis
3: The English language in the days of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and how it was brought into the New World by the pioneering Elizabethans. Demonstrates how Shakespeare and his contemporaries would have sounded (Peter Hall reads a passage in El

Title
Guid Scots tongue, The
Synopsis
4: The nature of Scots, its history and its dispersion to Ulster, the United States and the world. Particular attention is paid to the role of Ulster Scots in Philadelphia and Appalachia. Considers the contribution of Gaelic to Scots and the destruction o

Title
Pioneers! Oh pioneers!
Synopsis
5: How the major developments in America during the 19th and early 20th century provided modern English with metaphor. Events mentioned are the end of the War of Independence, the growing together of America and Canada, life of the Mississippi, the Gold R

Title
Black on white
Synopsis
6: Charts the influence of black English on standard English focusing on the debt of white American English to black English. Looks at Gullah which is still spoken off the East Coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Gullah derives from the West Coast of Afr

Title
Muvver tongue, The
Synopsis
7: Concentrates on Cockney English and its historical role, with an emphasis on the development of Australian English. In addition to describing certain characteristics of Cockney - its vowel sounds, rhyming and back-slang, borrowings from Yiddish and Hin

Title
Loaded weapon, The
Synopsis
8: Examines the relationship of English to Gaelic and the history of English in Ireland. Charts the decline of Gaelic and the linguistic colonisation of Ireland since the Anglo-Norman invasions of the twelfth century. Refers to the ways of colonisation un

Title
Empire strikes back, The
Synopsis
9: The development of English pidgins and creoles, black English in Britain and Indian English. Characterises pidgin as an improvised contact language which can help unify communications, as is the case in Papua New Guinea where there are over 700 tribal

Production Company

Name

BBC

Notes
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Name

MacNeil-Lehrer-Gannett Productions

Address
USA

Distributor (Sale)

Name

BBC Active Video for Learning

Contact
Carolina Fernandez Jeremy Wilcox (CF - for educational enquiries JW - channel sales manager)
Email
BBCStudiosLearning@bbc.com
Address
Now part of BBC Learning
Notes
This company is no longer trading under this name and currently does not have a web presence. It was originally a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and Pearson Education. Formerly known as ‘BBC Worldwide Learning Studies’ and before that as ‘Videos for Education & Training’

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