Tracking the history of English language

London, Aug 26 (ANI): The history of the English language, which is spoken by 1.8 billion people around the world, is being tracked in an exhibition at London's British Library.

Just before the First World War, George Bernard Shaw courted controversy with the salty dialogue he put in the mouth of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in hit play Pygmalion, later turned into the film My Fair Lady, the Sun reported.

On April 11, 1914, popular paper the Daily Sketch - The Sun of its day - ran the headline: To-night's Pygmalion in which Mrs Patrick Campbell is expected to cause the greatest theatrical sensation for years.

The cause of the sensation was that, as Eliza, she would deliver the line: "Not bloody likely".

The paper added: "Mr Shaw introduces a Forbidden Word. Will 'Mrs Pat' Speak It? Has the Censor Stepped In, Or Will The Phrase Spread?"

The phrase was used. The audience gave a gasp of surprise, and then roared with laughter. A linguistic taboo had been shattered.

Dozens of sayings that remain popular today originally appeared in 1611 with the publication of the King James or Authorised Version of the Bible. "Salt of the earth", "an eye for an eye" and "signs of the times" all feature.

The English language has just as often been put to creative use in slang.

Richard Head's Canting Academy of 1673 is one of the earliest collections of underworld slang in English.

Its purpose was to present the secret words to the general public so they could avoid falling prey to the tricks of "the more debauched and looser sort of people".

Head - a writer, bookseller and gambler - claimed to have picked up much of this language in London's notorious Newgate prison. Among the words that are still popular today are "booz" for drink and "bung" for purse.

If you wanted to rise up the social ladder, a pamphlet from 1854 advised you to pronounce the H in words such as house and head.

But it also recommended that the H in words including herb and hospital should be silent.

The exhibition features precious treasures held by the British Library, including a 1,000-year-old manuscript of epic poem Beowulf and Geoffrey Chaucer's racy Canterbury Tales.

There are also comics, posters, newspapers, sound recordings and even text messages revealing aspects of how English has evolved. (ANI)

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