Text 1 The English

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British people now have more free time and holidays than they did twenty years ago. Nearly all British people in full-time jobs have at least four weeks' holiday a year, often in two or three separate periods. The normal working week is 35 - 40 hours, Monday to Friday.

Typical popular pastimes in the UK include listening to pop music, going to pubs, playing and watching sport, going on holidays, doing outdoor activities, reading, and watching TV. Pubs are an important part of British social life (more than restaurants) and more money is spent on drinking than on any other form of leisure activity. In a recent survey, seven out of ten adults said they went to pubs, one third of them once a week or more often. Types of pubs vary considerably from quiet rural establishments with traditional games, such as skittles and dominoes, to city pubs where different sorts of entertainment such as drama or live music can often be found. Some pubs have become more welcoming to families with younger children than in the past, although children under fourteen are still not allowed in the bar.

Holidays is the next major leisure cost. If they have enough money, people travel more (the increase in private cars is an influence) and take more holidays. The most obvious - and traditional - British holiday destination is the coast. No place in the country is more than three hours' journey from some part of it. The coast is full of variety, with good cliffs and rocks between the beaches, but the uncertain weather and cold sea are serious disadvantages. People who go for one or two weeks' holiday to the coast, or to a country place, tend now to take their caravans or tents to campsites, or rent static caravans, cottages or flats. Many town dwellers have bought old country cottages, to use for their own holidays and to let to others when they are working themselves. People on holiday or travelling around the country often stay at farms or other houses providing "bed and breakfast". These are usually comfortable and better value than hotels. The number of people going abroad increased from 7 million in the early 1970s to 17 million in the mid-80s, and even more now, with Spain, France and Greece still the most popular foreign destinations.

England is famous for its gardens, and most people like gardening. This is probably one reason why so many people prefer to live in houses rather than in flats. Particularly in suburban areas it is possible to pass row after row of ordinary small houses, each one with its neatly kept patch of grass surrounded by a great variety of flowers and shrubs. Enthusiasts of gardening - or do-it-yourself activities - get ever-growing help from radio programmes, magazines and patient shopkeepers. Although the task of keeping a garden is essentially individual, gardening can well become the foundation of social and competitive relationships. Flower shows and vegetable shows, with prizes for the best exhibits, are popular, and to many gardeners the process of growing the plants seems more important than the merely aesthetic pleasure of looking at the flowers or eating the vegetables.

Visitors to provincial England sometimes find the lack of public activities in the evenings depressing. There are, however, many activities that visitors do not see. Evening classes, each meeting once a week, are very popular, and not only those preparing people for examinations leading to professional qualifications. Many people attend classes connected with their hobbies, such as photography, painting, folk dancing, dog training, cake decoration, archaeology, local history, car maintenance and other subjects. In these classes people find an agreeable social life as well as the means of pursuing their hobbies.

Despite the increase in TV watching, reading is still an important leisure activity in Britain and there are a very large number of magazines and books published on a wide variety of subjects. The biggest-selling magazines in Britain (after the TV guides which sell over 3 million copies a week) are women's and pop-music publications. The best-selling books are not great works of literature but stories of mystery and romance sold in huge quantities (Agatha Christie's novels, for example, have sold more than 300 million copies). It has been estimated that only about 3 per cent of the population read "classics" such as Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, whereas the figures for popular books sales can be enormous, particularly if the books are connected with TV shows or dramatisations.

I. Answer the following questions:

  1. What kind of holiday do people in full-time jobs have?

  2. What are the typical pastimes of the British people?

  3. What is an English pub? Do pubs differ across the country?

  4. Describe different ways British people spend their holidays in.

  5. What is gardening to an Englishman?

  6. What kind of public activities are British people involved in?

  7. Are British people fond of literature? What are their preferences in reading?

II. Explain the following words and phrases or give synonyms:

Full-time jobs, popular pastimes, leisure activity, holiday destination, "bed and breakfast", suburban areas, enthusiasts of gardening, the foundation of social and competitive relationships, lack of public activities, in huge quantities, an agreeable social life, the means of pursuing hobbies.

III. Talking points:

  1. British people are fond of travelling. What are the different ways of travelling popular with them? Where do they usually go on holidays? Do you think there is some difference in travelling for city-dwellers and people from countryside places?

  2. Gardening is Englishmen’s passion. Russian people are fond of gardening too. Compare the activity in these two countries.


The History of English

When the Angles and Saxons invaded Britain in the 5th century A.D., they brought with them their language: 'Englisc' or, as we call it now, Old English. Examples of Old English words are: sheep, dog, work, field, earth, the, is, you. Two hundred years later, when St. Augustine brought Christianity to Britain in the 7th century, hundreds of Latin and Greek words were adapted into Old English: words such as hymn, priest, school, cook. In the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries, the Viking invaders added their own Norse words: get, wrong, leg, want, skin, same, low.

When the Norman Duke William defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and became King William I, French became the language of the educated classes for the next two or three centuries. This meant that there was no conservative influence on the English language, which was spoken mainly by uneducated people, and so the Middle English period (1150-1500) was characterized by tremendous changes. Grammatically, most of the inflections or case endings of Old English disappeared, and word order therefore became of prime importance, as it is in modern English; at the same time, there was a massive transfer of French words into English (some estimates say over 10,000 words). Latin, however, remained the language of the church and of education, and this mixing of Latin, French and native English is the reason why there are so many synonyms even today in the English language, e.g. ask (English), question (French), interrogate (Latin); time (English), age (French), epoch (Latin).

The introduction of the printing press in about 1476 gave rise to the need for a standard, uniform language that could be understood throughout the country. Modern English may be said to have begun in 1500, and the most important influence on the language was William Shakespeare - 'pure' English was the language in which Englishmen best expressed themselves.

English was exported to Britain's growing number of colonies, which by the 19th century accounted for one quarter of the world's population. In the 20th century, even though Britain's role as a world power has declined considerably, the hegemony of the USA has meant that the English language has almost achieved the status of a world language. It is estimated that one in five people in the world speak English - 300 million as their first language; 600 million as a second or foreign language; 1 million as a foreign language.

As English has spread, so has it changed, and there are now several recognized varieties of English. While the English spoken in Britain's former 'white' colonies - the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - is still very similar to British English, and differs from it only in matters of vocabulary and phraseology, the English spoken in the West Indies and in countries such as India where English is the second language can be very different in syntax and grammar.

American English, for example, has been influenced by American Indian languages, by Spanish, and by the languages of all the ethnic groups that have emigrated to the US over the years. But it is still understood without difficulty by speakers of British English. Indeed, many 'Americanisms' - words or phrases which originated in America - have been assimilated back into British English, words such as skunk (American Indian), canyon, banana, potato (Spanish) or expressions such as to take a back seat, to strike oil, to cave in. Other words -automobile, cookie, crazy, highway, mail, movie, truck - still have an American flavour but are increasingly used by speakers of British English. A few words - faucet (tap), candy (sweets), fall (autumn), gas (petrol) - remain decidedly American, as do some forms of spelling (color - colour, theater - theatre, tire - tyre).

Australian English also has its own 'home-grown' words, some of which have made their way into international English (boomerang, budgerigar), though others (cobber = friend, sheila = girl, tucker = food, dinkum = good) remain distinctively Australian.

I. Answer the following questions:

  1. List the languages that have had an important influence on English. Why did they influence the English language?

  2. What is the main grammatical difference between Old English and Modern English?

  3. What gave rise to the need of a uniform language?

  4. When did Modern English begin?

  5. What factors helped English achieve the status of a world language?

  6. How can you characterize the different varieties of English?

  7. What is the process of influence of the varieties on each other?

II. Explain the following phrases or give synonyms:

Became of prime importance, a massive transfer of French words into English, gave rise to the need, throughout the country, recognized varieties of English, American flavour, 'home-grown' words.

III. Talking points:

  1. What do you know about the influence of other languages on English? What way do you think a language is developing? Are there any changes that are undesirable?

  2. Can you speak about the development of the Russian language? What family does Russian belong to? What do you know about different influences on it? Which language in your opinion is easier to learn for a foreigner?

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