It is surprising that Wycliffe was not burnt alive for his attacks on religious practices. After he was dead and buried, his bones were dug up again and thrown into a stream which flows into the River Avon (which itself flows into the River Severn):
The Avon to the Severn runs,
The Severn to the sea,
And Wycliffe's dust shall spread abroad,
Wide as the waters be.
An important Middle English prose work, Morte D'Arthur [= Arthur's Death], was written by sir thomas malory. Even for the violent years just before and during the Wars of the Roses, Malory was a violent character. He was several times in prison, and it has been suggested that he wrote at least part of Morte D'Arthur there to pass the time.
Malory wrote eight separate tales of King Arthur and his knights but when Caxton printed the book in 1485 (after Malory's death) he joined them into one long story. Caxton's was the only copy of Malory's work that we had until, quite recently f1933-4;. a handwritten copy of it was found in Winchester College.
The stories of Arthur and his knights have attracted many British and other writers. Arthur is a shadowy figure of the past. but probably really lived. Many tales gathered round him and his knights. One of the main subjects was the search for the cup used by Christ at the East Supper. (This cup is known as The Holy Grail. Another subject was Arthur's battles against his enemies, including the Romans. Malory's fine prose can tell a direct story well, but can also express deep feelings in musical sentences. Here is part of the book in modern form. King Arthur is badly wounded:
Then Sir Bedivere took the king on his back and so went with him to the water's edge. And when they were there. close by the bank, there came a little ship with many beautiful ladies in it; and among them all there was a queen. And they all had black head-dresses, and all wept and cried when they saw King Arthur.
III. Modern English (1500-to the present day)
By the beginning of 20th century, Britain was no longer the world's richest country. Perhaps this caused Victorian confidence in gradual reform to weaken. Whatever the reason, the first twenty years of the century were a period of extremism in Britain. The Suffragettes, women demanding the right to vote, were prepared both to damage property and to die for their beliefs; the problem of Ulster in the north of Ireland led to a situation in which some sections of the army appeared ready to disobey the government; and the government's introduction of new types and levels of taxation was opposed so absolutely by the House of Lords that even Parliament, the foundation of the political system, seemed to have an uncertain future in its traditional form. But by the end of the First World War, two of these issues had been resolved to most people's satisfaction (the Irish problem remained) and the rather un-British climate of extremism died out.
The significant changes that have taken place in this century are dealt with elsewhere in this book. Just one thing should be noted here. It was from the beginning of this century that the urban working class (the majority of the population) finally began to make its voice heard. In Parliament, the Labour party gradually replaced the Liberals (the 'descendants' of the Whigs) as the main opposition to the Conservatives (the 'descendants' of the Tories). In addition, trade unions managed to organize themselves. In 1926, they were powerful enough to hold a General Strike, and from the 1930s until the 1980s the Trades Union Congress (see chapter 14) was probably the single most powerful political force outside the institutions of government and Parliament.
From about 1600, explorers, adventurers, settlers and soldiers went out from Britain to found settlements and colonies overseas. They took the English language with them. At the height of their power, during the 19th century, the British could claim that the sun never set on their Empire. Today almost all the countries of the old Empire have become independent. However, most of them are now members of the Commonwealth of Nations, and English continues to be an important language for them.
After the Second World War the United States became what Britain had been in the 19th century: politically and economically one of the most powerful nations in the world. As its power spread, so the English language spread.
Five hundred years ago they didn't speak English in North America. The American Indians had their own languages. So did the Inuit (often called 'Eskimos') and Aleuts in Canada. So did the Aborigines in Australia, and the Maoris in New Zealand.
The English arrived and set up their colonies. And then other people came from all over the world, bringing many different languages and cultures.
The USA has the biggest mixture of all: it is often called a 'melting pot' of cultures. In 1619 a small ship arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, with twenty slaves from Africa. For over two hundred years, the Americans imported, bought and sold African slaves. Today there are over 29 million black Americans living in the USA.
In 1848 the population of the United States was still very small. Then two important things happened: they discovered gold in California and a new law, the Homestead Act, gave free land to farmers. Suddenly millions of immigrants came to America, 'The Land of Opportunity'.
At first they were English, Irish, German and Scandinavian. Then Italians, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Russians and Poles came. Most immigrants came because economic conditions at home were bad. But there were also other problems in Europe. About three million Jews came to the USA between 1880 and 1910 because of religious persecution in Russia and other countries.
Today the USA is still much richer than most of its neighbors. Its most recent new citizens are many Spanish-speaking people from Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America.
The population of Britain is only about 58 million. But throughout the world English is spoken by over 700 million people.
About 350 million people speak English as their first language in 12 countries such as Britain, the USA. Canada Australia. New Zealand. South Africa.
About 300 million use English as a second or official language in over 60 countries, for example, in India. They usually use it when doing business, or when completing official documents and forms.
It is estimated that at least 100 million people throughout the world use English fluently as a foreign language.
There are over 3.000 languages in the world. So why has English become so widely spoken?
Today the English language is almost the same all over the world. You can tell a person's nationality from their accent - Australian, Scottish, Canadian and so on. But the words are more or less international.
It's strange that the differences in Britain itself are greater than those between Britain and other English-speaking countries. For a Londoner, it's easy to understand an American, but quite difficult to understand the dialect of Newcastle in the North of England!
But not many people speak dialects in Britain these days. A hundred years ago (before radio and television) all ordinary working people did. In Emily Bronte's book Wuthering Heights the old man Joseph speaks Yorkshire dialect:
"Take these in tuh t'maister, lad. Un' bide theare. Aw's gang up tuh my awn rahm." (Take these in to the master, boy. And stay there. I'm going up to my own room.)
Don't worry. Joseph doesn't say very much in the book - the rest is in normal English!
In a country like New Zealand, English is the first language. In fact it's the only language for most people. About 100,000 Maoris have their own language, but they also speak English. Most of this book is about countries where English is the first language – Canada, Ireland, the USA and so on.
But in more than sixty other countries English is a second language. The government, business and universities use it. Some of the people, but not all, speak it well and use it for certain parts of their lives.
I enjoy learning English, it is really great' I like to learn new words, to look up in the dictionary their meanings. English grammar is difficult, but I try hard to understand it, to learn the rules, to put them into practice.
I think it is very interesting to read English books, newspapers, magazines. I came to know a lot of exciting facts and new things. It is like a new world where you can enter if you know the language.
English folklore is very rich. I believe, it is good to know English proverbs and tongue-twisters, English rhymes and limericks. English sayings and songs.
When you learn tongue-twisters, it helps you to improve your phonetics.
I know quite a number of them. Here is a good one:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper:
A peck of pickled pepper Peter Piper picked:
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper