Book ReviewA Concise History of English [Archives:2003/634/Education]

May 5 2003
Photo from archived article: photos/634/education2_1
Photo from archived article: photos/634/education2_1
Reviewed by Dr. R. N. Nandyal
Associate Professor
Center of Languages,
Taiz University,

The book entitled A Concise History of English is written by Professor Dr. Thakur who is a well-known figure in the field of English studies and who can be called the “Father of English Education In Yemen” for the contribution he has made for the last twenty two years to this part of the world in the field of English language and literature. The book consists of eleven chapters with pithy epigraphs, besides the Preface and selected references. It is no exaggeration if I say that the book under review is eminently readable. Twenty-five years age, when I read A.C. Baugh's A History of The English Language, C.L. Barber's The Study of Language and Otto Jesperson's Growth and Structure of The English Language, I thought their styles were inane and vapid whereas I can vouch for the scintillating and inspiring style of the author of the present book.
In the Preface to the book, Prof. Thakur says: “In my opinion the history of English and, in fact, the history of any language is bound to be deplorably incomplete if it does not take into account the way the language has been used in literary texts and the role that the literary authors have played from time to time in shaping the form and the destiny of that language.” In the present book while discussing each period /age, Prof. Thakur invariably refers to the contribution made by the poets and writers to the growth of English language.
Some of the striking features of the book are the discussions on “English as a World Language”, “The Impact of the Feminist Movement” and ” American English”. In “The Importance of American English”, the author raises profound questions: “Will American English also surpass British English as the dialect spoken in and around London, Oxford and Cambridge surpassed the variety of English spoken in the south-west of England? A stream, says a proverb, can never rise above its source. Will the metaphorical content of the proverb proven false in the case of American English?” (P.222)
Moreover, the book is suffused with philosophical and literary statements. For instance:
“Women have at times played a crucial role in giving an unexpected turn to history and this is what happened in the history of Christianity in English.” (P.23)
” erhaps no battle in the history of the world led to a drastic change in the basic character of a language as The Battle of Hastings in 1066 did in the case of the English language.” (P.54)
“It would be naive to suggest that in the interaction between history and etymology the gain will always be one-sided. When two disciplines interact, the interaction enlivens and enriches both the sides. Etymology may have to obtain more from history than it may have to offer. It needs to be recognized, nevertheless, that the insights arising out of a study of the history of the words may fill numerous small little gaps of information here and there and can even be used as corroborative evidence of a fairly crucial nature at times.” (P.249)
” History repeats itself in the sense that though no two events of history are exactly identical, the same basic human tendencies, the same instinctual drives for being and becoming, the same profound urge to conquer death, the same human urge to attain great heights intertwined with the same animal impulse to be mean, selfish, jealous, and irrational manifest themselves in all our actions again and again.” (P.249)
“Man considers it a misfortune to be drowned but what shakes the very core of his existence is the fear to be drowned in the endless sea of oblivion. Urchins' secret attempt to scratch themselves on stone monuments, stone statues built in the memory of people we would like to be remembered for a long time, the desire to exist at least in the form of photographs and portraits after one's death, painters writing their names at the bottom of their paintings and the like are some of the manifestations of man's instinctual desire not to be forgotten.” (P.250)
“'What is in a name?' says Juliet to Romeo and adds that 'what we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.' Romeos and Juliets living in an imaginative world of romance and poetic beauty may say that there is nothing in a name but if we study names from the points of view of their etymology, we will find that most names have a fascinating history.”(P.238)
In fact, these words, leading the readers to philosophical heights and literary depths, serve as “foregrounding”- attention calling devices- in the book. After going through the book-, which is interspersed with appropriate quotations, literary as well as philosophical-, the readers would proclaim:
“History after all is the true poetry. And reality, if rightly interpreted, is grander than fiction.”
Finally, I recommend this book to all the students and teachers of English Language and literature in Yemen.