Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spreading the word

Somehow I doubt that celebrated linguist, academic and author David Crystal OBE is an avid viewer of Channel 4's 8 Out Of 10 Cats. But if he were, he might have been pleasantly surprised by a recent installment during which Jimmy Carr revealed that, when asked to name the nation's most significant contribution to the world, a whopping 60% of the Great British Public plumped for the English language.

You see, as Crystal explained in a talk as part of last month's Oxford Literary Festival, his latest book Wordsmiths And Warriors: An English-Language Tourist's Guide To Britain (written in partnership with his wife Hilary) finds him regularly despairing at the fact that our mother tongue, and key moments in its evolution, are all too often disrespected rather than celebrated. Take the arrival on these shores of the first Anglo-Saxons, at Pegwell Bay in 449, for instance - an event that marked the very birth of English, and yet that fact is neglected on all the signage there today. Or William Caxton's printing press and bookshop - there's now nothing where the building once stood, in Westminster, not even a memorial to commemorate its existence.

Key figures too are rarely afforded the official recognition they deserve, Crystal only uncovering two or three blue plaques in honour of those instrumental to the development of English (one of which is in Oxford itself, for the founder of the Oxford English Dictionary, James Murray).

Perhaps, though, the stat from 8 Out Of 10 Cats would make Crystal even more aggrieved - why is it that the general public can acknowledge the importance of English and yet the powers-that-be can't?

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