Becoming part of the British Library’s collection

Evolving English exhibitiona the British Library

Evolving English exhibition at the British Library

Yesterday I went to the British Library to do some reading. During my lunch break I decided to pop in to the new Evolving English exhibition.

For a start I was surprised at how busy the exhibition was considering it was a Tuesday lunchtime. Thankfully it wasn’t too busy and I was still able to pause at the many displays and exhibits. I admired the copy of Beowulf and listened to an analysis of the language used in the Canterbury Tales.

Having spent the morning in the reading rooms and planning on returning in the afternoon, I was very happy to wander between the recordings, enjoying the opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III and the interactive map to Britain and Ireland sampling accents over time.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (11th c.)

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (11th c.) from the British Library

The sound archive has a collection of over 3.5 million recordings that vary from oral histories (the British Library is currently working on a very interesting oral history project relating to the history of science) to performances of music and drama, to recordings focused on accents and dialects. It is certainly an archive I’d love to explore more, but I never imagined I could be part of it!!

At the end of the exhibition there are some small phone booths inviting visitors to sit down and make their own contribution to the British Library’s collection. You can contribute in two ways; you can read an extract of the children’s book Mr Tickle used to record our different vowel sounds. The Evolving English Exhibition blog discusses the reason for using Mr Tickle in more depth, suffice to say a children’s book is used so as not to intimidate the reader and to encourage a constant flow of words and record an accurate pronunciation.

Or you can contribute by recording any words that you consider slang, funny or particular to your family or group of friends, this I assume will help identify any trends developing or the influx of outside influences.

Mr Tickle himself

Mr Tickle the subject of your contribution to the British Library's Sound Archive

I contributed in both areas, unashamedly getting into a jackanory style reading of Mr Tickle and I also contributed two words that I considered everyday and common until I used them outside of my family unit.

These were ‘foundered’ meaning feeling cold, for example ‘I was foundered’, and (I was laughed at a lot for using this) ‘bumfled’ which I generally use in reference to being uncomfortable specifically with too many clothes on, ‘I’m really bumfled’ or ‘this is really bumfley’. Has anyone else heard of these, or is it just my family???

Language is a very personal thing and a person’s use of it can tell you a lot about them, but it also seems that the evolution of our language can teach us a lot about the history of England and all the people in this country and those further afield that speak the English language.

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