Exhibition highlights evolving English

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sticklers for correct spelling and proper pronunciation could be fighting a losing battle if a new exhibition is anything to go by.

Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices, which opens at the British Library in central London later this year, tells the story of how language has changed from Anglo-Saxon times to modern day slang.

Roger Walshe, head of learning at the library, said: "The idea of the exhibition is to give people a sense that language has changed and evolved and for people to get the feeling that this is a very natural process."

Among the exhibits are the first book printed in English complete with two different spellings on the same page of the word French, and the Ten Commandments translated into text messages.

There is also a poem from 1867 including the line "I wrote 2 U B 4" which suggests the language of text messaging precedes the mobile phone generation.

Also included is a BBC guide from 1928 on correct pronunciation and a selection of recordings of UK dialects from across the 20th century.

The library's Jonnie Robinson said: "We hope the exhibition celebrates diversity across the UK and across the world.

"We have constantly absorbed languages which come into contact with us."

The exhibition highlights previous controversies sparked by fears that standards of English were slipping.

A Victorian-era pamphlet devoted to the "Poor Letter H" advised would-be social climbers when to pronounce the letter in words including house, head and hotel.

There is also a copy of a pamphlet by Gulliver's Travels author Jonathan Swift calling for a group of experts to come together for the purpose of "Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue".

Mr Robinson said: "In my opinion good English is language that communicates what you set out to communicate.

"It communicates meaning at that particular time and in that context."

Visitors to the exhibition will be asked to record their own voices to help build up a world map of language.

There will also be performances of old English poetry, a show by the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company and a chance to meet Ian Martin who was swearing consultant on the famously foul-mouthed BBC comedy The Thick of It.

The exhibition runs from November 12 to April 3 next year.