evolving english

Ventured up to the British Library yesterday, to see the latest of their wonderful (and, amazingly, free) exhibitions, Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices. The exhibition explores the development and spread of the English language, in all its rich variety, covering aspects such as slang and dialect, and how the language has absorbed influences from around the globe. As well as manuscripts, books, posters and so on, there is an abundance of audio material, from recordings of regional accents to snippets of famous speeches. My highlights included the recording of James Joyce reading a passage from Finnegans Wake; the video clip about British Sign Language; a schoolboy’s letter to B.S.Johnson, referring to him as “Mr Flabby Chops Johnson”, written in response to Johnson’s request to his class to tell him what they thought of him (later used as source material for Albert Angelo); listening to David Crystal read part of The Canterbury Tales; and the 19th century poster: THE RIOT ACT HAS BEEN READ, which, I discovered, when I bought the postcard, is held in the fascinating sounding Centre for Ephemera Studies at Reading University. There’s so much to see, so much to hear, that a return visit before the exhibition closes at the beginning of April seems essential.

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