Two items have caught my eye in the past 48 hours... The first was in the Writer's Almanac on Wednesday which announced:
Today is a big day in the history of the English language. On this day, in 1066, William the Conqueror of Normandy arrived on British soil. Having defeated the British in the Battle of Hastings and on Christmas day he was crowned the King in Westminster Abbey.
At the time the British were speaking a combination of Saxon and Old Norse. The Normans, of course, spoke French, and over time the languages blended. To the Saxon word "house" came the Norman word "mansion." To the Saxon word "cow" came the Norman word "beef" and so on.
So the English language now contains more than a million words, one of the most diverse languages on earth. Cyril Connelly wrote, "The
English language is like a broad river... being polluted by a string of refuse-barges tipping out their muck." But Walt Whitman said, "The English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all."
As a philologist, Tolkien abhorred the Norman French take-over of the English language that came about because William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings. His Shire is resolutely English, as are his Hobbits, and his plan for his fiction was to create a mythology for England that was English.
But for all that, he was not very fond of English literature any more than he was of the French take-over of English. He reportedly disliked Shakespeare at school, and he was not over fond of Milton either (preferring Old English literature to the more "modern" literature), so I console myself that although I am guilty of a "deep crime", according to the Poet Laureate, I am in good company. Andrew Motion has suggested that is 'a "deep crime" never to have read key Shakespeare works, Paradise Lost or Great Expectations.' Still, I have read many of Shakespeare's plays, and many of Dickens' novels, and even some old English texts (admittedly translated into modern English), so I hope my crime will be forgiven.