Aug 9, 2012

Schoolhouse Review Crew: King Alfred's English

When I was a kid, my dad coached basketball for a private school. I remember one day, when I was hanging out with him, he needed to speak with the principal of the school. During his meeting, I waited in the front part of the office and whiled the time away by browsing through a dictionary I found there. I vaguely noticed some boys in the hallway, but was too absorbed to pay them much attention until my dad returned, and the secretary told him, laughing, that the boys had been discussing what heinous crime I must have committed to be punished by being forced to read the dictionary! It never occurred to them that it was something I would choose to do for fun. But I have always loved words. I have also always loved history, so when the Schoolhouse Review Crew was asked to read and review King Alfred's English: A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do I was first in line.

As the (somewhat lengthy) title suggests, this book is the history of the English language. That sounds kind of dry and boring, doesn't it? But really, it is not! Honestly. This book was an easy read. The author, Laurie White, has a casual, chatty style that reads like a friend sharing her latest discovery on a topic that passionately interests her. I felt as though we were sitting at a table sipping coffee and talking.
I learned a lot of fascinating information about my language, too, which, quite frankly, surprised me, because, as I said, I love words and history and thought I knew quite a lot about both. But this book answered many questions I had pondered over the years, such as... Why do we use the terms B.C. and A.D? Who started it and how did they make it so widespread? Why are capital letters called "upper case" and small letters called "lower case"? Why is our spelling so weird and inconsistent with our pronunciation and what exactly is up with all the "silent letters"? Why do we raise cows, pigs and sheep, but eat beef, pork, and mutton?
Not only that, but this book answered questions I didn't even have! For instance, did you know that there is proof of a common Indo-European language that predates the languages we now know? Did you know that the Brother's Grimm had something to do with a major breakthrough in language study? Did you know that it is highly likely you pronounce "where" and "when" differently than your grandparents? Did you know that the way living languages change actually validates the theory of Intelligent Design?
King Alfred's English also pulled together a bunch of little facts that I already knew and tied them all together in one cohesive story. Kind of along the lines of Paul Harvey. :)
However, this isn't just a book. There is also free supplemental materials that you can use for lesson plans for your students. The book and the materials are aimed for kids ages 12 and up, so we didn't use them. I just devoured the book and hurried over here to tell you about it. As I read it, I did read bits and pieces aloud to my husband and my children, and they were intrigued as well. I was so delighted to find out the part about the livestock, because that was a conversation we had had at the dinner table recently!
I really enjoyed King Alfred's English and I am pretty convinced that you will, too. However, you don't just have to take my word for it. :) You can read what other Crew Members had to say. And you can check out the Table of Contents and the first chapter.
If I have persuaded you that King Alfred's English is a must-read, the first five people to comment on this post will be sent (via email so make sure I have yours) a coupon code to buy the soft cover book for half price. (that's $8.47) The code is good until the end of August.

DISCLAIMER: I was given a free download of this book in exchange for this review. All opinions are honest and my own.

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