Cyning Ælfred’s Englisc

4 February 2010

That’s King Alfred’s English by today’s standards.  This book was written by Laurie J. White and it was extremely interesting.  I loved The White Horse King by Benjamin Merkle so much that I went searching for more on Alfred the Great and stumbled upon this book.

It covers the growth and change of the English language from pre-English Britain to today and discusses the way languages change over time in general.  It is really much more interesting than it sounds.  The book over-views some ancient, but mostly medieval history and talks about the major ‘invasions’ on the English language.  The four main invasions are Latin, Old Norse, Old French, and Greek, two of them occurring during an actual military invasion of England, and the other two having more to do with scholarly pursuits at the time.  Can you guess which of the four are military and which are scholarly?  :)  The author also includes Shakespeare as a mini invasion all on his own.  I didn’t realize how big an impact Shakespeare had on our language.

This book is written, as it says on the back cover, “for students grades 7-12 and curious adults”.  It is definitely written with students in mind, and keeps the tone and pace lively and enthusiastic, anticipating the groaning high schooler that really couldn’t care less about the hows and whys of the history of English.  If a person were to describe this book as ‘dry’, then I would have to assume he’d read nothing but comic books his entire life.  The style does get a bit distracting once in a while, but that’s easily forgivable since it is so interesting.

I did catch two mistakes that kinda bothered me.  King Alfred was stated as having three older brothers, but he actually had four older brothers (and one older sister).  The other was a misattributed quote.  ”When I get a little money, I buy books, and if there is any left, I buy food and clothes.”  Leonardo da Vinci is given the credit, but Erasmus is the one who deserves it.

The book is named for King Alfred because of his efforts in making his country a literate one.  He established schools, made it mandatory for his nobles to be literate (unheard of at the time), and even learned Latin himself so that he could translate books into Anglo-Saxon (early English) for the benefit of his people.  He was following Charlemagne’s example, who had begun similar projects on mainland Europe about a hundred years before.

I highly recommend this book.  It’s a quick, easy read, very informative and interesting.  I enjoyed it a lot.