Bragg is well known for his television programmes about the English
language. He's at the Words By The Water festival to promote his
latest tome. Can Lord Bragg cut it in front of an audience without
the comfort of a script and editing?
intrigued. I've just finished studying a block about exactly this
topic for an Open University course. How would Melvyn tackle the
story of English? Who would be the heroes? And who will be the villains?
the heroes were King Alfred and translators Tyndale & Wycliffe.
Bragg couldn't hide his contempt of the villain - Henry VIII.
a stage that resembled a slick studio set, Bragg began by sloshing
water all over the place and cracking jokes about someone in the
front row coughing. The audience was mostly educated silver-tops
and a few damp fleece-wearing tourists. I expected more students.
apologised for nerves but surely this doesn't happen to someone
of his experience? The talk was the sort of thing usually conducted
in a bookshop - an overview and excerpts from his latest book (The
Adventure of English).
William Jones, who discovered the correlation between Sanskrit and
English, was an amateur language fan and Bragg uses this to justify
his authority to write books on language. Although, as he points
out, "everyone is interested in language", I'd prefer
to buy a book by a 'real' authority like Pinker or Trask.
was slightly difficult to listen to at times. He can start a sentence,
only to finish with something unconnected, and there was a tendency
to speak a little fast with an occasional stammer. But it seemed
off-the-cuff and original.
Bragg gestured wildly with some interesting mannerisms, it was amusing
that he mentioned body language and how we interpret it!
content of the talk was a whirlwind tour from the Celts to the present
day, via a string of anecdotes from his book. These included the
origins of 'OK' and his investigation of the Wigton dialect he grew
spoke passionately about the influence of the church on English,
culminating in his rant about "why we should never forgive
talk ended with Bragg stating that he "couldn't imagine a world
without the contribution of the people of these Isles". Although
Faraday, Darwin & co played a part, I'm pretty sure Einstein,
Bohr & others could have got here on their own. Sadly, there
was no time for questions.
lecture was a sell-out. From what I heard, if they'd sold standing
tickets, there would have been folk swinging from the light fittings.
The Words By The Water festival is building a reputation for attracting
the best speakers and a big crowd of eager listeners.
by Suzanne Worthington, BBC Cumbria
you at this lecture? What did you think? Email