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Matters Arising (The History of Britain Revealed)
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Mick Harper
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- indeed, in the face of specific evidence such as the Peterborough Chronicle the author turns distinctly queasy.

That is not my recollection. I thought I seized on the Peterborough Chronicle with considerable glee. But it is true that if the orthodox explanation for the PC is correct then I am blown out of the water. Fortunately it is ludicrous.because it requires Anglo-Saxon to become English in about thirty years! That is in the period between the previous edition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1090) and the Peterborough version (1120). My own explanation is that Anglo-Saxon scribes were no longer being trained after the Norman Conquest.

Some other reviews suggest that the book may be of interest in giving an alternative history or in encouraging students to question theories that become accepted in academic mainstream. I would dispute this

At least he acknowledges there are other views than his own that testify to the value of the book. This is both commendable and unusual. Most critics either ignore such people exist or declare them to be fruitcakes.

- of course academic theories must always be rigorously questioned,

It’s always fascinating to me how often this claim is made as if it is self-evident. Everyone here knows perfectly well that academia is structured so that theories are never rigorously questioned. Oh that they were!
to be concluded.
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Mick Harper
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but the author's thesis that the traditional narrative is an unsupported invention is as much a fiction as his own alternative narrative.

As, I suppose, is this statement.

This book has nothing to teach anyone about the history of English except insofar as its theoretical flimsiness would tend to turn one to trust the traditional tentative narrative.

This is one of the most magnificently circular non-sequiturs I have come across in years. I shall have it transcribed into needlepoint and hung over my bed.

It might however be of interest to an alienist.

An alienist is a (weirdly) old fashioned term for a psychiatrist. My harshest critics have never accused me of actual clinical insanity since they recognise there’s a difference between a fruitcake and a nutcase. But as Frank Muir pointed out, everyone’s a fruit and nutcase.
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Mick Harper
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And still people are lining up to sing its praises

Superficially intriguing, but ultimately a silly, pompous, book. I hope it's an elaborate in-joke about how easy it is to write this kind of pseudo-academic "revisionist" drivel. If not, the straw man arguments Harper constructs are easily and comprehensively demolished by people who understand the linguistics or (pre)history at question.

Thank God there are none of them around.
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Mick Harper
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For some reason my Google Alert has just alerted me to a ten-year old discussion of THOBR. I cannot remember whether I followed it then but it sure does read excitingly today (in parts)

http://languagehat.com/crackpottery-and-credulity/

Forty-four comments in two weeks ... ah, them were the days.
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Mick Harper
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I've been taken to a desert island!

https://twitter.com/scvincent/status/977679035739377664
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Ishmael


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"If the book were claiming that Queen Elizabeth was the illegitimate son of Rasputin...."

That's my book.
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Mick Harper
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I don't think you're allowed to take your own book. Although I seemed to remember somebody did on the Radio 4 show and was mocked for it ever after. That said, like Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest, I do like re-reading my own stuff. Even my own past posts. Is this true of everybody?
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Ishmael


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Were you aware that there is something called archaic latin which is far more briefly-written than is classic latin? It's literally a short-hand latin and supposed to be older than classical Latin. This accords with your thesis that Latin might have been developed as an abbreviated script.

I recall scholars testing your thesis by comparing English paragraphs translated into Latin and reporting that the Latin version was not much shorter than the English (though, to my recollection, it was typically about one third the length). This experiment may not have been honest! They ought to have used the earliest form of Latin---archaic Latin. It would surely have yielded a most dramatic result!
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Ishmael


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Here is Harry Hubbard pointing out that Latin is only a little more than half as long on a page than is modern English. This is classical Latin---not the older, Archaic Latin.

He goes on to point out that Hebrew is derived from Latin.
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Mick Harper
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I have to admit I was taken aback by this criticism. I got the idea because I used to read Loeb Library Classics, which had the Latin on on the left hand page and the English translation on the right. It sure as hell looked like about half but it's one of those easily-checkable facts that I and my academic critics are forever at odds about.
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Mick Harper
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This quite old critique of THOBR has just emerged from the bowels of the internet.

At last week's Middle English reading group

Ya gotta admit, that’s some opener.

Alex Jones lent me a copy of M. J. Harper's History of Britain Revealed, which argues among other chestnuts that English does not descend from Old English, French is derived from English, etc.

These are chestnuts? When did that happen?

Apparently its author intends it seriously. Anything I say about it is by Harper's criteria automatically wrong, since I'm an academic. Fair cop, but I did want to make one point about his argument, one that I haven't seen in my brief survey on the blogosphere.

Well, it’ll be automatically wrong but let’s hear it all the same.

Harper heaps scorn on academics whenever they have recourse to the idea that a language wasn't written down during certain stages of its life (e.g., between Latin and the romance languages as we know them).

I sure do since by their own admission they rely entirely on written evidence and if a language wasn’t written down....

But his whole book is an elaboration upon that assumption, which is apparently not so idiotic so long as he's the one doing it.

You have to work out what he’s saying but it sounds like ‘It’s idiotic if Harper is saying it but not idiotic if academics are saying it.' No rhyme or reason given.

In his polemic, English was not recorded before c. 1100.

Not my polemic, it’s a fact. Everybody's agreed on that.

Oh, and (the entirely different language) Anglo-Saxon

Why the brackets? It is an entirely different language (whatever your view about their relationship).

just happens not to have been recorded after c. 1100
.
But that’s also true! Everybody's agreed on that.

Mere coincidence; don't look behind the curtain, let's instead insult academics again. Anyway (keep your eyes away from that curtain! look back here!)

Why’s he blaming me? It’s a fact!

Anglo-Saxon really isn't so great, because Beowulf is a 16th-century forgery.(Yes, he really says that.)

Yes, I really do though I pass no opinion on its literary merit.

His evidence that English hasn't ever changed is that brief bits of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Eliot are comprehensible to us today where Anglo-Saxon isn't. Against that hugely compelling point I'll just point to, oh, The Owl and the Nightingale. I can hear the response: "Oh! well that's in an entirely different language altogether. We'll call it ... Owlish. Sure, why not. It's Owlish."

This is truly amazing. The Owl and the Nightingale is in what I suppose a Middle English Reading Group would call Middle English. You can argue how close it is to Modern English (very) but nobody, least of all them, could possibly argue it is Anglo-Saxon.

This is a really fun read, if pretty depressing once one realizes that this guy apparently means it and that so many reviewers and bloggers think it's so great.

They do? Where?

Best to imagine it, as one of the sane bloggers out there had initially hoped it really was, as more of a Colbert approach. "Nation! I'm tired of evidence and logic. Let's get up to some silliness instead!!" OK, back to Langland now everyone, C Passus XVIII-XX for next Monday! (Yes, in MIDDLE ENGLISH.)

My God, if Piers Plowman is Middle English they've got a lot of reading to do.
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