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History of the English Language (1943)

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Published on May 6, 2011

More from our archives: http://film.britishcouncil.org/britis...

The British Council Film Collection is an archive of more than 120 short documentary films made by the British Council during the 1940s designed to show the world how Britain lived, worked and played. Preserved by the BFI National Film Archive and digitised by means of a generous donation by Google, the films are now yours to view, to download and to play with for the first time.

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.

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.

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