Sunday, August 5, 2012

King Alfred's English

   "The language you learn as a small child is the language of your heart.  It is the one in which you call out when you are hurt, the one in which you holler when you lose your temper, the one in which you pray.
    Is English your native language?  If it is, then what we are about to study is the language of your heart...."       -King Alfred's English, Laurie J. White

    Yes, she hooked me on the first page.

     Laurie White is a homeschool mom and author of King Alfred's English, A History of the Language We Speak.  I'm not sure I would have ever sought out a book about the history of the English language.  Actually, I'm quite certain that I have never really thought about the history of my native tongue at all.  Nevertheless, when the opportunity to review this book came up, I was ... intrigued.

     After all, since I was eight years old I've considered myself a writer ... primarily of the English language.  (I once wrote a poem in French during my freshman French class.  I decided afterwards I should stick with English.)  So I figured learning a little about this tool of my trade should prove useful and interesting.

     Laurie White did not let me down.  King Alfred's English was a very interesting read.  Starting in 'Pre-English Britain 55 BC', White forges through world history and church history covering such topics as ancient Rome, St. Patrick, King Arther, the printing press, the Brothers Grimm, Martin Luther, and Tyndale.  The book reads as though you are sitting next to White as she passionately and excitedly spills forth the wealth of knowledge she has on how one event in history after another has effected the English language. 

     King Alfred's English is also written from a distinctly Christian worldview.  White discusses how our language is evidence for design.  This is shown through 'The Language Law'  which is 'Living languages always simplify over time'.  She gives several examples for this including how today we use the word 'you' when in Shakespeare's day we would have used 'thou', 'thee', 'ye' and 'you'.  White explains...

     "The complexity of primitive languages and the fact that languages are observed to simplify over time are seen as clear evidence for supernatural design."

     There are so many interesting tidbits in this book that I hardly know what to include in this review...  The English language was once considered crude to speak openly which is why we often have two words for the same thing.  Considering how a gentleman landowner might speak Anglo-Saxon to the peasant who worked in the kitchen, but then would speak French to the nobleman who dined with him, we now understand why so many of our animal names change once they reach our dining table...

                         Anglo-Saxon                               French
                            cow                                          beef
                            deer                                         venison
                            sheep                                       mutton
                            calf                                           veal

    It was King Alfred who "had understood that to encourage a national feeling of patriotism, a people needed to feel proud of their native language", which is why the author titled her work "King Alfred's English".  And it was the achievement of having the English Bible in print that proved that "English could convey man's deepest yearnings and God's greatest truths with all the precision, depth, beauty, and nuance of great literature....and English would never again be seen as a second-rate language...".

    The recommended age for this book is 12 and up.  My oldest is 11 and I did not give him this book to read...yet.  Personally, I will be using this as a high school text for two reasons.  One, because as I said before, the author uses a very conversational tone throughout the book.  I don't mind this so much, but I know my young students would not stay interested as long without more storytelling.  This book moved from one exciting event in history to the next rather quickly often leaving me wanting to know more of that story.  Students who already have a good base knowledge of world history might find this book more enjoyable. 

     Secondly, White offers tons,  and I do mean tons, of supplemental teacher and student materials for King Alfred's English free on her website, .  These include links to online articles, videos, movies, literature, and worksheets for each chapter of the book!  As a matter of fact, there is enough material to create a full semester (one half unit) of history, or a 1/4 unit history plus 1/4 unit English.

     King Alfred's English can be purchased in softcover for $16.95 retail or for Kindle for $5.95.  I did review the Kindle edition of this book and it read beautifully on my Kindle app.

     Read more reviews of this product at The TOS Review Crew blog.
I have been given the wonderful opportunity to review many homeschool products over the last few years. The only compensation that I receive for my review is the free product. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in review groups and I have enjoyed trying out these products and giving you my honest opinion.
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