The Adventure of English

The Adventure of English

2003, History  -    -  Playlist 47 Comments
Ratings: 7.86/10 from 96 users.

The Adventure of English is a British television series (ITV) on the history of the English language presented by Melvyn Bragg as well as a companion book, also written by Bragg.

The series and the book are cast as an adventure story, or the biography of English as if it were a living being, covering the history of the language from its modest beginnings around 500 AD as a minor Germanic dialect to its rise as a truly established global language.

In the television series, Bragg explains the origins and spelling of many words based on the times in which they were introduced into the growing language that would eventually become modern English.

1. Birth of a Language. The modern Frisian language is the closest sounding language to the English used approximately 2000 years ago, when the people from what is now the north of the Netherlands travelled to what would be the United Kingdom and pushed the Celts to the western side of the island. Words like "blue" can be recognized in the Frisian language.

2. English Goes Underground. Bragg discusses how class also affected the use of English, especially in the time of William the Conquerer and for approximately 300 years after his reign; during this period, only the French language and Latin were used in state affairs and by the aristocracy, while English remained in use with the lower peasant classes.

3. The Battle for the Language of the Bible. In the early to mid 1300s, English fought to be the language of the Christian Bible through the efforts of theologian John Wycliffe, who opposed the church's use of a Latin scripture because it prevented most of the population from reading the bible for themselves.

4. This Earth, This Realm, This England. In Queen Elizabeth I's time, English began to expand to even greater depths. Overseas trade brought new words from France, as well as the now popular swearwords "fokkinge," (f--king) "krappe," (crap) and "bugger" from Dutch, in the 16th century.

5. English in America. Upon landing in North America, settlers encountered Squanto, a native man who had been captured and brought to England to learn English and become a guide. After escaping, Squanto returned to his tribe, which happened to live near the place that the English settlers had created their small village.

6. Speaking Proper. The Age of Reason began, and English scholars of mathematics and science like Isaac Newton started publishing their books in English instead of Latin. Jonathan Swift would attempt to save the English language from perpetual change, followed by Samuel Johnson who would write the A Dictionary of the English Language, made up of 43000 words and definitions, written in seven years and published in 1755.

7. The Language of Empire. British trade and colonization spread the English language. In India, scholar William Jones finds some English words already present in Sanskrit. Convicts land in Australia, blending London criminal slang and Aboriginal words into a new dialect. Jamaicans reclaim patois.

8. Many Tongues Called English, One World Language. The globalisation of the English language in the 20th century owes most to the United States. Here we look at the predominance of American Black street talk, how the Second World War and American movies threatened to "infect" the mother tongue in Britain and how some nations are attempting to stamp in the invasion of English out - for example franglais in France and Singlish in Singapore.

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Steve in Australia
1 year ago

This excellent TV series failed miserably in it's explanation of the Aussie accent. Our accent down under is not simply a derivative of slang originating from London's criminals. Any Australian academic would tell you we speak a blended & levelled down mixture of accents from the British Isles, not just from London. Look through a telephone book in Australia & check out the huge number of Irish surnames for example. The second fleet of arrivals at Sydney were mostly Irish. Within one generation of those born in the new colony, English had married Irish, Scots married English, Irish, & Welsh and so on. Furthermore people from a cross section of the English counties intermarried & their children spoke this levelled, uniform accent. The same blending occurred in settlements in other parts of the continent as not only convicts but settlers arrived to take up farmland, & to establish themselves as merchants, tradesmen, & a little later gold diggers. Even in Perth on the opposite side of the continent a similar blend of British people had children who spoke an almost identical levelled down accent. The claims made (by this TV series) about the origin of Aussie English stem from a silly obsession that the only thing we need to know about Australia is "convicts". I would say 'get facts not myths'.

2 years ago

Excellent series. But where are episodes 7 and 8?

4 years ago

Remove the DAMN arabic subtitles!!!!

8 years ago

English is used widely because back then and even now, the people who speak this language have the biggest guns of all. It is a consequence of empire and colonialism.

8 years ago

English is now the strongest language.

9 years ago

why is it now coming up as a private video?

10 years ago


See that just my point, I don't have that problem because I speak English which is a very expressive and ambiguous language, not to sound like a broken record. You want quotes i'll get you some, may take a little while but I'll get them. more to come-

10 years ago

English is now the strongest language. I am much impressed by knowing that the language of English met crisis of disappearance several times and each time the language had to be reformed and became stronger. I want to learn more about why and how the language was able to survive.
I am very pleased to study English and language altogether.

10 years ago

Well done documentary, and could probably have gone on for twice as long as it did!

Thanks yet again, Vlatko!

10 years ago

It would have been interesting if they had included Canada in this series to demonstrate how torn the country is between American and British English and the hybrid that has been created as a result...

Jade J
11 years ago

I have watched alot of documentaries. This is by far my favorite, enough that I have shared it with several of my friends. I'm so glad that I was able to find it here. Thank you

11 years ago

I like this, so much history

11 years ago

That's just soooo great! I really love this ...

11 years ago

Liked this so much I watched it twice. Probably spent just a wee bit too much time on Shakespeare...but man is GOOD!

Jimmy Fitz
11 years ago

Murders, scumbags, 800 yrs............ come on like are ye brainwashed in school or are ye just American, be ashamed Britain.

11 years ago

Great doc but on the first episode the thing cuts out after 18 mins - shame

11 years ago

I as a Dane find this very interesting. it reviles a lot about my own language that i didn't know... awesome!!! i love it!!!!

12 years ago

Should I watch this one or read the book? Are they similar in context?
It will be too expensive to buy the DVDs & the book at the same time
Could someone tell me if the book comes with CDs?
Thank you.

12 years ago

Zut! just when i needed to watch this.

12 years ago

Just an Amazing... More people need to see this... because so many people forget that all things are born and grow.

12 years ago

As a language lover, this is definitely the best I've ever seen on the English language!


12 years ago

That's just soooo great! I really love this page and this beautiful documentary and I love English linguistics! :)

Gunnar Reiersen
12 years ago

So far, I have watched the first 2 episodes and am looking forward to watching the rest, after a good night's sleep. I certainly understand what the narrator means about the versatility of the English language and the fine shades of meaning that can be expressed in it. My birth language is Norwegian (though English is the language I know best, as I was only 5 when my family immigrated to the U.S.), and I also speak Danish. One of my Danish friends once told me that even though Danish is his native language, once he learned English, he found that he could express what he meant more precisely in English than he could in his native language because of English's richness and versatility. Based on my own knowledge of Danish, it does not surprise me that he would say that. On the other hand, Danish and Norwegian are both much more consistent phonetically and grammatically than English, with not nearly so many exceptions to the rules that must be learned by rote, and with simpler verb conjugations.

12 years ago


12 years ago

Is anybody else here as juvenile as me and giggled in the first episode at the mention of "happy wood"? (at about 21:00)

12 years ago

watched all episodes. very interesting, but there are some boring bits.

13 years ago

Great doc Vlatko Shame about the block in part 8 though can you mail me when it is fixed Ta

13 years ago

Can these "videos in parts" be joined as a single file & upload to mega video or some other hosts like google videos which support larger FLV files please!!

13 years ago

Thank you once again for another outstanding documentary.

My wife is Filipina and speaks Taglish (Tagalog/English).
She enjoyed the documentary as well!

I really liked when the narrator said that we Americans speak better English than the English.

We learned many thing that are not taught in school, especially in the US.

We have lived here in Abu Dhabi for many years and every one of my Arabic and Persian friends speak English quite well.

Thanks again,
Tom and Neth

Ian Philipp
13 years ago

Wow, almost the nicest documentary I have found online. I linked it to my Facebook site. Unfortunately, the eighth sequel is damaged after minute 7:33. One should fix that one of these days. Still: It is so informative, I was really surprised.

13 years ago

amazing loved this so much, very good to know the roots of our language.

13 years ago

Simply fascinating.. it truly is an international language.. brilliant doc.

13 years ago

Episodes 7 and 8 have problems with the audio and the image.

13 years ago

I watched the first episode - so interesting. I can't wait to watch the rest.

13 years ago

Bloody marvellous!!

I am English living in The Netherlands and have learnt Dutch. In the course of this I had to notice a lot of similarities in some of the words. Then I saw something on line which described old English and I thought, wow, that's just like Dutch!

Now I am FULLY informed in ways that utterly delight me and I'm even more in love with English than ever, plus I have a new fondness for Dutch.

I had, after a couple of years of living in India and learning some Hindi, also noticed some of the similarities touched upon in one of these segments.

A little research had made me realise that words I had taken to be irritating Americanisations, were infact preserved pieces of old English (like 'gotten' for 'got') and now, thanks to this, I have the full story and I'll never be irritated again...... y'all.....

Just proud of our wonderful, adaptable, richly enriched English.

We really are all one big family - I'm so happy.

Thank you Vlatko - for this site and your constant vigilance in adding new material and settling out of control commentaries!

Catherine Schwerin
13 years ago

I bought the series on dvd and have in the meantime read that it normally comes with a guide, which I did not get. Does anyone know where I can get one?
Thank you!

13 years ago

real good..answered a lot of subjects on English i often wondered about ...thanks

13 years ago

Well presented, easy to understand and really interesting.
I watched the whole thing from start to finish and I'd recommend it to anyone.

13 years ago

Good stuff Vlatko.
I've been considering a university course on the same subject so I'll enjoy this.