BL Exhibition funded by ATBL

The American Trust had allocated $66,000 from its total grant giving for 2009 for the British Library’s upcoming fall exhibition entitled, “Evolving English:  One Language, Many Voices.  It will be the first ever exhibition exploring the English language in all its national and international diversity.  Iconic items and recordings will explore how English is spoken in the UK, from rural dialects to urban youth-speak, and celebrate English as it is spoken by 1.8 billion people around the world.

Rare Treasures at British Library

Rare Treasures at British Library Evolving Englishes Exhibit

The BL’s collection items will be set alongside engaging everyday texts to show the many social, cultural and historical strands from which the language is woven. Thus, treasures such as Beowulf, Shakespeare Folios, the King James Bible, Johnson’s Dictionary, Austen manuscripts, Scott’s diary and recorded speeches by Pankhurst, Churchill and Gandhi will be exhibited together with handwritten letters, recipes, posters, lists of slang, trading records, adverts, children’s books, dialect recordings, text messages and web pages. The interactive and media rich exhibition will emphasize how, from the very beginning, English has been shaped by the different cultures and languages with which it came into contact. It will demonstrate that the English language is by no means purely ‘English’– it is in fact a ‘mongrel’ tongue, mixed from centuries of influence from across the world, show the growth of English to the dominant world tongue, and show us where the language is now, where it has been, and – perhaps most important of all – where it is heading, for the new varieties of the language appearing in world literature and on the Internet show that this is a story which is by no means over.

Three curators of the BL gave ATBL a preview of the exhibit divided into English Comes of Ages, Everyday English, English around the World, Setting the Standard, English at Work, English at Play; and English around Britain and Ireland.  They saw rare and wonderful examples of what they BL will present:  an 11th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript, a handbook for Hobos, a 1612 map of Virginia, a Pidgin English kuk buk (cook book), the 1525 William Tyndale New Testament, British government posters from the First World War, a 1490 Eneydos (Aeneid), The Song of Solomon in various dialects of the Northern Britain, and Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers.

The Library is planning this major exhibition running for four-months at the Library October 2010-March 2011. They expect to attract 120,000 visitors.

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