Friday, August 03, 2012

TOS Review: King Alfred's English

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Did you know?
  • The English and the British were not one in the same.
  • Language always simplifies over time.
  • We may have the Grimm Brothers (think Grimm fairy tales) to thank for our ability to look up a word derivation for an English word.
  • For over 300 years the official language of the English court was French.
  • The Venerable Bede’s history book popularized the system of relating all dates to the birth of Christ by using the term “BC” for Before Christ, and “AD” for Anno Domini.
  • There’s a law for the way languages change that backs up Intelligent Design.
  • There was an actual plumber who sold and repaired toilets in London whose name was Mr. Crapper? (I know, huh?)

You'll find all of this out and so much more in Laurie J. White's book, King Alfred's English: A History of the Language We Speak And Why We Should Be Glad We Do. (Oh, and you'll also find out who King Alfred was!)

Plus, besides one thrilling invasion after another, you will encounter memorable historical figures who helped shape the English language such as: Augustine of Canterbury, William the Conqueror, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Henry VIII, James I, and Shakespeare!


When I saw that the book, King Alfred's English: A History of the Language We Speak And Why We Should Be Glad We Do  was up for review, I figured it was right up my alley.

And, well, I was right!

I've spoken English all of my life and have sat in English classes all through school, but I have never before learned so much about its true origins and how it came to be what it is today. Teacher, writer, and former homeschool mom, Laurie J. White, truly has a gift of weaving together the study of English and history in a reader-friendly and entertaining way. Her thorough research of exciting people, places, and events coupled with her use of vibrant language and personable writing style make this book an excellent and memorable choice for learning about the history of the English language. It's recommended for ages 12 and up.

Her book has 15 chapters that are divided into 6 parts:
  • Part I. Pre-English Britain 55 BC – 500 AD
  • Part II. Old English 500— 1066
  • Part III. Middle English 1066— 1500
  • Part IV. A Time of Transition– From Middle to Modern English 1400 – 1600 (or thereabouts)
  • Part V. The Making of the English Bible 1526— 1611
  • Part VI. Shakespeare and Modern English From 1500 Onward

To see a breakdown of chapters titles and topics covered in each, you can view a complete Table of Contents here.

Part I. She begins the book with a brief look at the ancient history of the Celts (Britons/Gauls), the Roman influence there, and several German invasions to set the stage for the Middle Ages which marks the beginning of the history of our language.

Part II. History of the Middle Ages begins, and we learn how Britain's name changed to England. You'll take a look at the Language Law and how it points to Intelligent Design, and you'll become an expert philologist -- well, maybe not an expert, but you'll know what one is. Here, you will also uncover another set of invasions, military and cultural, that modified the English people and their language. They are: The Church and Latin, The Vikings and Old Norse, The Normans and Old French, and The Renaissance and Greek.

Part III. Here enters William the Conqueror, and French makes its mark on the English language. Latin makes a comeback and it seems as if English will fall by the wayside. But it doesn't. It grows! Also in Part III, English is no longer referred to as Old English, but Middle English, and will be until the end of the Middle Ages. Other goodies include the Hundred Year's War, the very first handwritten copy of the Bible in English, the first printing press, and the mystery of English spelling.

Part IV. Two major movements swept across Europe to bring us out of the late Middle Ages into what we call the Modern Era (1500-now). The influence of the Renaissance and Reformation was so massive that it more than doubled the English dictionary! A huge wave of Greek words infiltrates our language at that time and because of Greek documents available then and now, you'll see just how accurate our modern translations of the Bible are.

Part V. The English language had been through a lot over the years, but a significant achievement was about to be unveiled -- I will let the author explain, "That achievement was the English Bible— in print— especially the King James Version. We shall see how the English Bible would show the world that English could convey man’s deepest yearnings and God’s greatest truths with all the precision, depth, beauty and nuance of great literature." As glorious as this achievement was, this part of the book definitely has its share of drama with characters like King Henry VIII and all his wives, Queen Elizabeth, King James, and William Tyndale.

Part VI. What does Shakespeare have to do with modern English? The author writes, "William Shakespeare had a monumental impact on our language. In fact, he was a kind of mini-invasion of the English language all by himself." He's remembered for inventing over 1,000 words and phrases that we still use today. Grammar and spelling rules become important during this time period. Finally, Laurie closes the book with the revelation that English has the most words of any language and that it continues to change and grow.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Laurie's passion for the history of the English language shines through, and it felt more like listening to her speak than reading words on a page. My hat goes off to anyone who can make history come to life. In school, I remember history as boring, impersonal, and quite the drudgery. Not so with King Alfred's English!

I am now passing it along to my 12 year old who just started 8th grade this week. It's the perfect compliment to our current history study of the Middle Ages! He is in the second chapter and is also using all of the free supplemental materials provided on the website,

There are worksheets for each chapter, three tests, and answer keys. A student page provides the reader with an opportunity for further study. For each chapter there are links to articles, primary sources, movie recommendations, literature, and more. So basically, my son reads a chapter then spends the next couple of days or so completing the worksheet and picking a few of the items on the student page to enhance his study.

I highly recommend this book. It's no wonder it's a A CBD TOP TEN PICK for Homeschooling and Nominated for CSPA Book of the Year! The 170-page softcover is available at Amazon and many other stores. Currently the lowest price is at CBD for $14.89. Also available on the Kindle for $5.95.

One last thing: The author is offering a deal to the first four readers who comment on this post -- 50% off the list price! You need to include your email address in your comment, so I can send you the link and discount code to purchase this book for $8.47.

See what other Crew Members are saying about King Alfred's English here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

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