The Dawn of English
goes to Winchester, home of King Alfred the Great in the ninth
century and the place where English, in the form of Old English,
really took off. Bragg meets three generations of townspeople
and hears how the distinctive local form of English has come
under increasing pressure - from the influence of London and
Today Winchester, a
smallish town in Hampshire, is dominated by its thousand year
old cathedral. It was the perfect setting for Melvyn Bragg and
Dr Kathryn Lowe of Glasgow University to talk about a very unusual
monk - Aelfric, a Benedictine who lived here in the tenth century.
Here is the problem that made Aelfric famous: how can you make
Latin, the universal language of learning at the time, interesting
to restless pupils? His solution was to write a lively dialogue
or colloquy, getting his students to play the parts of ordinary
folk - the ploughman, the fisherman, the baker. And to make
things even easier, Aelfric put the Old English translation
above the Latin! This is very important because it represents
the first standard form for written English.
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did early English sound?
is one of the most significant milestones in the history of
the language. To hear what this early version of English may
have sounded like, here is a passage describing the baker's
may sound very foreign at first, but it is closely related to
German and Dutch. As Dr Kathryn Lowe points out, many of the
words we still use every day come directly from Old English.
day, the Anglo Saxon of Winchester was the standard English
of the time. Nowadays our idea of standard English may be more
connected to Oxford or, increasingly, London. But the west of
England, including Winchester, still has its own distinctive
pronounciation - though older citizens like Arthur Dillow, who
is now 96 years old, feel his kind of local English is now being