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49 customer reviews

Additional DVD options Edition Discs
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(Jun 02, 2009)
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$35.48 $27.75

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A 1,500 year journey with Melvyn Bragg and a team of experts uncovers the fascinating tale of a remarkable language. While they share the secrets of how English has evolved and impacted society in this 8-part documentary, the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain." Includes 8 episodes on 4 DVDs. 2002-03/color/6 hrs., 48 min/NR/widescreen.

The life story of a remarkable language

Join Melvyn Bragg and a host of experts as they explore the vibrant 1,500-year history of the English language. How did it grow from a relatively insignificant Germanic dialect to become the premier language of culture, commerce, and diplomacy around the globe? The answer involves bloody conquest, political intrigue, and plenty of creativity.

Renowned authorities such as Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, cofounder of the Royal Shakespeare Company John Barton, and Elizabethan scholar Katherine Duncan-Jones explain the development of English in entertaining detail. In this fascinating, eight-part documentary, Bragg and his colleagues examine the life of the language, showing how diverse forces--from Beowulf to the Bible, from Shakespeare to American slang--shaped the way we communicate today.


  • 20-page viewer’s guide includes key points, discussion questions, avenues for further learning, "The Evolution of the English Alphabet" essay, and more.
  • "Architects of the Language" biographies
  • Exclusive web extras

A prolific author, screenwriter, and broadcaster, Melvyn Bragg serves as president of Great Britain’s National Campaign for the Arts and chair of the Arts Council Literature Panel. He has hosted The South Bank Show, Britain’s leading arts program, for over 30 years.

View an Excerpt from the Guide Included with The Adventure of English

The Adventure of English

Special Features


Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Athena
  • DVD Release Date: June 2, 2009
  • Run Time: 405 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001O7R75E
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,457 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Harold Wolf TOP 50 REVIEWER on May 17, 2009
This is a concise yet thorough presentation of the beginning and changes to the English language. It is concise because no word spoken on the DVD set's 405 minutes is wasted. Every statement is packed with valuable and interesting information regarding changes, alterations, mutations, and eliminations to English vocabulary and phrases. It is thorough because it begins with language prior to English, searches data from all over the world, and ends back in England with the knowledge that spoken & written English will likely be around for a long time, but ever changing.

This is an educational product, but the presentation is filled with on-location footage from around the world, making it a richly beautiful, historical, and travelogue-like documentary experience. It is captivating as it continues, minute by minute, presenting common and seldom-used vocabulary, their meanings, and origins. Many surprises, more than countable, will enlighten any viewer.

Who'd-a-thought that "bulldozer" originally referred to the full-measure of a whipping which a bull could take, but was administered to American slaves, often causing death? A far cry from a piece of heavy equipment. "Dr. Johnson" at one point was a name given to a body part only identifiable as male. And, "nip" is a word yet to be included into a dictionary, or completely defined the way youth in the UK are using it.

2000 of today's common words were first used by Shakespeare and the Oxford Dictionary now holds approximately 3/4 of a million words. Shakespeare's longest word was "honorificabilitudinitatibus" meaning with honor. William Tyndale's 1526 Bible translation from the original Hebrew and Greek provided readership for English reading common worshipers.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By author of The Devil's Bonfire on November 19, 2009
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This series traces the English language from its origins through the many cross pollinations with other languages that has resulted in a language that is both concise and eloquent. The series is loaded with little gems that reveal that our language, like cities of ancient origin such as London, is a living archeological site that can be sifted for the past even as we watch the future unfold. Every time we speak, though most of us are unaware of it, we record the history of English. Words like husband linger from the days of Alfred the Great when the Danes came. We call calf meat veal because of the Norman conquest. Feel the history in every word we speak.

I am sorry to say that the other excellent series on the subject The Story of English is not available on DVD at this time. Both are worth every minute of the hours of time to view them.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Aunt Ruthie on September 12, 2009
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Each episode produces revelations such as the origin of the New England Primer and the Blueback Speller, which included strict pronunciation rules. So determined were our forebears to erase class distinctions of speech, that they taught schoolchildren common pronunciation intending that any child born and educated in the U.S., no matter how humbly born, could be elected president.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Steve Reina VINE VOICE on November 30, 2009
Fifteen hundred years ago, the Roman Empire had vacated Great Britain.

Germanic tribes stepped into the void, taking the land and subjugating the people to a new language.

But in one of those strange quirks with which history is so fond, the language of the tribes became only a part of the language their new land. While an excellent exploration of these early days can be found in John McWhorter's recent English Our Bastard Tongue, a vibrant and exciting treatment of this same time can also be found here in this series.

In the wake of this Germanic invasion Old English had a great Renaissance of sorts culminating in an age of scholarship and artistic expression best known today for the creation of the Beowulf story.

In 1066, another invasion by William the Conqueror, put English on ice for nearly three hundred years while French became the main language of the realm. We still see the impact of this French control in words like magistrate and arrest and other important terms still used in our legal system today.

By the 1380s the still prevalence of common English usage resulted in the creation of an English language Bible written by John Wycliffe. Even though it was banned by the church the Bible was a popular success and did much to start the process of standardizing a common written English.

This standardization got a hand from the crown itself when James I commissioned a royal Bible...the King James Edition (which drew from the Wycliffe edition and also one by Tyndale in the fourteen hundreds). It was also aided in no small measure by the work of William Shakespeare whose 38 plays still resonate through literary history serving as the gold standard for both great theatre and great writing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Yanta on October 8, 2009
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This is a very well written and produced video series that really gives you an appreciation for the guts, glory and good luck that went into creating this English language. The story is told from the British perspective but embraces the diversity of cultures that have combined to create and continue to grow this communication miracle.
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