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One Language, Many Voices at the British Library

On the radio the other night, voices complained that the British Library’s exhibition on the English language was incredibly rich and messed up. There was just too much piled into one room. You swooned at cases holding the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; a letter written by Henry V; Jane Austen’s crossed-out revisions to her novel Persuasion; and (see below) lashings of slang.

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Shaw's Eliza Doolittle spoke several delightful versions of English.

The British Library, a sprig of the British Museum, "holds 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents and 3 million recordings. . ." The exhibit, which is supported by the American Trust and free of charge, runs through April 3rd.

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (11th c.)
 is one of the items on display.

"In the reign of King Alfred, in about AD 890, Anglo-Saxon scribes compiled a record of events in Britain since 60 BC. Copies were distributed to monasteries, where they were updated for decades to come.

Surviving copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle give us an insight into the changing nature of Old English. They also record Scandinavian influence, which began in 793 with the Viking raid on Lindisfarne. Vikings who settled in England introduced many Scandinavian words into English, including ‘they’, ‘take’ and ‘dirt’." [BL Cotton MS Tiberius B.1]

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