History of the English Language

'English was brought to Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. Already it contained words taken from other languages, and it has never ceased to borrow. Its rich vocabulary, now totalling about half a million words, included additions from all the chief languages of the world, though most come from Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Dutch. Maps and diagrams show the growth of this mother-tongue of millions.' [1]

Date: 1943
Duration: 14:12

Director: Mary Field
Production Company: G.B. Instructional
Producer: -
Cinematographer: Frank North
Composer: -
Narration: -
Editor: -
Sound Recording: -

Length: 35mm:1359ft. 16mm: 554ft.

Diagrams by: Diagram Films Ltd

Note: The title over British Council Crest - 'Diselangarakan Oleh perpustakaan pilm British Council' - appears to be misspelt Indonesian, and merely says 'Organised by the British Council film library'.

Still from 'History of the English Language'

History of the English Language acts as an excellent layman's introduction to the origins of one of the most common languages on the planet, demonstrating how dialect changes over time, and presenting England as being multicultural right down to its roots.

This is a comprehensive introduction to the English language. Through its depiction of English as a worldwide language, it clearly promotes not only Britain’s power in the world, but also its multiculturalism. The foreign language in the titles is apparently Indonesian, so one must assume that this was shown there. This might explain the simple illustrations of each word or people mentioned in the film.

Still from 'History of the English Language'

Germany is included in this origins story, although, having been made during wartime, it is not as heavily featured as it would in an unbiased edition. Whilst the war is not openly discussed, one excerpt is especially telling: the narrator states “The German language also produced words associated with war, such as plunder”, along with the image of a uniformed man fiddling with coins in a chest.
As the image transitions into a cartoon, the insignia on his shoulder goes from a double-V shape to a Nazi swastika.
Also, Shakespeare’s King Richard II, Act 2 scene 1 is quoted, which talks of England as a paradise, protected against war by God and nature. Finally, Winston Churchill is featured towards the end, talking about England's tolerance, lack of greed, and hinting at its multiculturalism.
As propaganda goes, it’s subtle for its time, yet clearly evident today.

National Archive File: TNA BW 4-32 - 'History of the English Language'

  1. ^ Films of Britain - British Council Film Department Catalogue - 1946-47