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The Adventure of English (2002)

 NR |  DVD
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

List Price: $79.99
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The Adventure of English + The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language + The Story of English: Third Revised Edition
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Product Details

  • Format: Box set, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Athena
  • DVD Release Date: June 2, 2009
  • Run Time: 405 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001O7R75E
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,270 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

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

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars English, Every Word A Moment in Time 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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly an Adventure! 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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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"Where did I come from?" is a question typically posed to young parents by their small child. Whatever way the parents choose to deal with this potentially explosive query is their option and/or problem; but if you're curious as to where your linguistic essence came from, this DVD set holds all the information you will ever need.
Using a very organized and easily understood approach, The Adventure of English describes how our language was born, grew and developed to become the standard in communication around the world. Throughout its evolution of over 1,500 years, English has endured the onslaught of battles and pestilence, bringing it many times to the brink of extinction; yet, it has managed to not only survive, but truly thrive among all other languages, due to its ability to absorb rather than repel its enemies. By offering us subtle variations in meaning, the ever-expanding English vocabulary provides us the tools to convey an extensive richness in our words, granting us the power to use the perfect word for the perfect occasion.
I highly recommend this DVD set, The Adventure of English, to those who would like to have a better sense of and respect for our verbal and written system of communication. By understanding where your English language came from, you can better appreciate your own history. As the small child mentioned above grows and develops, so too will his ability to handle his language, to effectively communicate with it, and in so doing contribute to its infinite evolution.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English: A language made by Germans, Celts and Us 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars More than met my expectations
This series was more than I bargained for. Very interesting and well produced. Full of facts that I want to watch it again and again, to pick up things I missed.
Published 1 month ago by Jesse Beitz
5.0 out of 5 stars Knowledge plus entertainment
Tired of the movies. This DVD was so very enjoyable because you learn so much. I took courses like this in school but they could not come close to the enthusiasm of the presenter... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Robert Grieves
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Videos Every Explaining Our Language
These videos are not only informative but entertaining. I happen to be an English instructor at a local college, and even the students find these fascinating. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kleiber1
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good storytelling
A special with a very knowledgeable and interesting to listen to narrator. Have watched it several times and always enjoyed the re-watching and getting something new that I missed... Read more
Published 4 months ago by RICHARD A. MACDONALD
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and Readable History of What We Speak
Companion book to the Adventure of English videos. Good readable history of how we got today's speech. Read more
Published 6 months ago by ANDREW G BYER
5.0 out of 5 stars good
it is a very good book, because it is very interesting the english culture as the language well, so i love it
Published 7 months ago by fernando
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
A very enjoyable series, As an Australian it made me understand where we came from, "convicts etc. Read more
Published 8 months ago by caduceus
5.0 out of 5 stars Great series and great service
This is a great study of the English language. Very well done and is entertaining as well as educational. Sellers service was very good.
Published 8 months ago by Grant Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Journey Through Our Language
I thoroughly enjoyed this set of DVD's. They are extremely informative while being entertaining, not at all pedantic. Highly recommend!
Published 9 months ago by Carol Fleisig
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Documentary
After having watched the documentary on tv I am glad that we now have this great work about this amzing language, presented in a way that it it neither boring nor too... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Helmut Ruhbach
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