Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I read a few good books on vacation and plan to write about at least one of them, Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler's Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe sometime in the next few days. In the meanwhile, Mentalblog has an email interview with the author here.
Stuck at the airport, I managed to get a fair way through Melvyn Bragg's The Adventure of English, an extremely entertaining 'biography' of the English language, which traces its rise, fall, rise, fall, and rise and rise and rise. The discussion of the way English was virtually shut out of affairs of state, law, literature, high society etc. for centuries after the Norman invasion in 1066 certainly put the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and other early 'greats' into a perspective which, as an English literature major, I'd never properly considered.
From a Middle Eastern perspective, Bragg briefly mentions an interesting little etymological fact, regarding the origin of the word 'Checkmate.' It came to English through the French, from the Arabic/Persian, where it was originally Sheikh Met -- The King, or Sheikh, is dead!
From a religious perspective, Bragg also discusses how the early Church did its utmost to prevent the Bible being translated from Latin into English. This was not merely an issue of 'Lashon HaKodesh,' as it were, but a way of stopping the masses being able to access religious texts for themselves and retaining power and control over them. The Church was willing to stage plays enacting biblical stories outside its Churches but would not allow the masses to actually read these stories for themselves. The stories of John Wycliffe (14th century), who first translated the Bible into English and whose bones were actually exhumed by the Church and burnt into order to prevent him from gaining eternal life (40+ years after his death!), and of William Tyndale, whose translation later formed the basis for the King James version of the Bible but who was executed by stranglation for his efforts, show much about the power of language -- and the language of power...

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