Friday, November 19, 2010


I just returned from London where I spent most of the last four days at the British Library. In between the usual hectic mix of manuscripts, manuscript catalogues and journal articles, I considered it my duty to squeeze in a tour through BL's exhibition Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices. It truly is what it's advertised to be - a tour through the whole length and breadth of English with everything from Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and medieval English-French phrasebooks through audio recordings of legendary speeches and outlier dialects to recipes in Tok Pisin ("Katim tamato liklik, putim long sosipan..."), all of it right there at your fingertips.
But the absolute highlight of the whole exhibition were the short video vignettes starring David Crystal reading from various historical documents in their original language. With enthusiasm, passion and delivery worthy of a Shakespearean actor, Crystal really made the texts come alive. I was especially delighted to hear him recount the egges/eyren anecdote from Caxton's Eneydos: "...certaynly it is harde to playse euery man / by cause of dyuersite & chauge of langage". Try this video for a taste, or better yet, go see for yourself, it's definitely worth it.
And while your in the building, be sure to check out the British Library bookshop for all things exhibition-related, other cool stuff including most of David Crystal's recent books and, considering recent history (see here and here for background), this wonderful piece of irony: