The Times (U.K.) reports on an unusual new museum:

The English language might be abused and misused, as well as celebrated, but it is the means by which two billion people communicate as a first or second language. Now its story is to be told in the world’s first museum dedicated to a language.
The English Project — which is due to open in 2012, as part of the Olympics cultural programme, with support from the British Library and the BBC among others — will aim to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the richness of the English language.
It will trace its development from the mixed tongue of three tribes — the Jutes, Saxons and Angles who crossed the North Sea to make their homes in Britannia in the 5th century — to the global lingua franca of today.
The museum will be built in Winchester — the city of King Alfred, who promoted Old English as a language of learning, literature and law. The city was also a unifying factor for the disparate English, or Anglo-Saxons, at a time when they were threatened by the Viking onslaught.
A campaign is planning to raise up to £25 million from public bodies, individual donors, trusts and foundations. The museum will be announced on March 5 by, among others, David Crystal, an expert on the history of the English language, who will analyse the state of English today.

I’m not sure what it has to do with the Olympics, but Crystal is indeed an expert; who knows, maybe it will be worthwhile. Here‘s the Winchester city website, and here‘s the university’s announcement. Thanks for another interesting link, Paul!

Update: The English Project “launched the world’s first English Language Day in 2009” and seems to still be going strong in 2024.


  1. Do you suppose they will hire M. J. Harper as a consultant?

  2. The idea of a museum dedicated to a language has already been implemented in Brazil. It’s called Museu da Língua Portuguesa. I’ve introduced it (including a virtual tour with a YouTube video) on my translation blog:
    (sorry, it’s in Portuguese)

  3. The cult of English takes another step forward.
    Not that I have anything against it. I would just love to see some other languages celebrating their heritage and history the way English does. Does anyone know of written histories of languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, etc. If someone can do a TV series on the History of English, why not something on some of the other major languages? It would be interesting to be involved in a “history of Chinese” project, for instance. Unfortunately I doubt much funding would be forthcoming from English-language sources — not a big enough market in the English-speaking world.
    On the other hand, I sometimes try to think what would result if you left such a project to the Chinese themselves. It’s all too easy to use the cult of language for political purposes, and Chinese intellectuals have never been noted for their neutrality in matters of history. Perhaps it’s better left as an unrealised dream….

  4. An Olympics 2012 cultural programme? That’s the first I’ve heard of it. Considering how many existing cultural institutions have been facing funding cuts to help pay for the Olympics (because the organisers – surprise surprise – got their sums wrong), I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. We’d better hope the people who “designed” the 2012 logo aren’t allowed to have anything to do with this museum…

  5. There’s going to be a cultural and heritage programme running for the next 4 years in the build up to the Olympics. It’s going to be called the Cultural Olympiad. Woop-itee-doo-da, obviously that’ll make up for all the lost cash from arts and heritage…

  6. There’s already a museum (and a monument) dedicated to Afrikaans in Paarl, South Africa.

  7. Can we just cancel the Olympics, please, and do the cultural bit instead? A museum of Frog, Kraut and Eyetie would indeed be a welcome addition.

  8. Does anyone know of written histories of languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, etc.
    That’s a very good question, bathrobe. If anyone does, please let us know.
    I’m reasonably certain there is no comprehensive written history of Arabic. Writing one would be a lot of work, just imagine that you’d have to include all the peripheral dialects and their history, Judeo-Arabic and Christian Arabic and things like that. That would be an enormous amount of work.

  9. Crystal may be an expert, but he’s a very dull one.

  10. michael farris says

    My idea of Crystal is that he’s never come across a status quo he didn’t like. (I don’t know if that’s fair or not, but my impression nonetheless.)

  11. >I would just love to see some other languages celebrating their heritage and history the way English does.
    John McWhorter (in Doing Our Own Thing, I think) makes the opposite complaint, that Russians, French, etc. idolize and develop their languages, while English speakers and especially contemporary Americans have no regard for their language and low regard for its formal side and are allowing it to slide into barbarism. But then, what would you expect from a conservative.
    >there is no comprehensive written history of Arabic
    Does Versteegh’s The Arabic Language count?

  12. caffeind,
    I don’t have Versteegh on me right now, but from what I remember, not exactly. Some 250-260 pages are just not enough, especially if you really want to be comprehensive and if you want to include some of the more juicy stuff and biographies. I’m thinking of something along the lines of Dovid Katz’s “Word on Fire”, that is cca. 400 pages and still didn’t have enough space to go deeper into some the subjects. But in broad lines, something like “The Arabic Language” would be a pretty good start.

  13. I’m skeptical but pleased. We’ll see.

  14. By comparison, the US National Museum of Language is run out of a broom closet in College Park, MD, by a bunch of people with absolutely no fundraising acumen.

  15. Does anyone know of written histories of languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, etc.
    I always assumed that such histories exist, but they’re written in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, etc.
    The non-scholarly market for a history of a language not one’s own must be vanishingly small.

  16. There seem to be non-scholarly histories of Latin churned out in English, and in German, on a semi-regular basis. But that is no doubt because a significant number of Westerners still consider Latin “their own” – in a cultural sense, not in the sense that they speak it.

  17. And I was wondering lately; no-one seems to write A History of Ancient Greek except A. Christidis for Cambridge University Press, but that costs a whopping £140,- and its girth alone testifies that it is clearly not meant for the interested commoner.

  18. For Greek, I recommend Geoffrey Horrocks’ Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (Addison Wesley, 1997); it takes you from Ancient Greek to the present with lots of examples and analysis, in under 400 pages.

  19. Has anyone read this book:
    History of the German Language (Revised Edition)
    John T. Waterman
    “Book Description
    The most accessible, well-balanced history of the German language available! No comparable work is available in English or German that gives readers an adequate foundation in the methods, goals, and results of historico-comparative linguistics as they apply to the German language and its historical antecedents.”
    And it goes back to Indo-European.

  20. Sounds like fun. If anyone knows anything about it, please share.

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