The Story of English

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The Story of English is the title of an Emmy Award-winning nine-part television series, and a companion book, both produced in 1986, detailing the development of the English language.

The book and the television series were written by Robert MacNeil, Robert McCrum, and William Cran.[1] The book has been revised twice, once in 1993, and again in 2002.[2]

The documentary series was directed by William Cran,[3] and originally broadcast on BBC and PBS. It was co-produced by MacNeil-Lehrer Productions and the BBC, and was principally funded through a grant from General Foods. The third episode, "A Muse of Fire", won the 1987 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Programming - Writing.[4] The series was released as a 5 tape box set in 2001, running 495 minutes.

The book and series have been used in university courses.[5][6]

Episode list[edit]

  1. An English Speaking World: Discusses how English has become the most dominant language throughout the world.
  2. The Mother Tongue: Discusses the early stages of the English language, including Old English and Middle English.
  3. A Muse of Fire: Discusses the influence of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible on the English language.
  4. The Guid Scots Tongue: Discusses the Scottish influence on the English language.
  5. Black on White: Discusses the influence of Blacks on the English language. (Includes interviews with Philadelphia hip hop legends The Scanner Boys, Parry P and Grand Tone.)
  6. Pioneers, O Pioneers!: Discusses Canadian English and the various forms of American English.
  7. The Muvver Tongue: Discusses Cockney dialect and Australian English.
  8. The Loaded Weapon: Discusses the Irish influence on the English Language.
  9. Next Year's Words: Discusses the future and new emerging forms of the English language.


  1. ^ McCrum, Robert; Robert MacNeil; William Cran (1986). The Story of English. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-80467-3.
  2. ^ ISBN 0-14-015405-1 and ISBN 0-14-200231-3
  3. ^ The Story of English on IMDb
  4. ^ "Primetime Emmy Award Database - The Story of English". Retrieved 2013-04-20.
  5. ^ The Story of English Video Series - contents listing, including timecode descriptions at the Wayback Machine (archive index)
  6. ^ ENG 121: The Story of English — a Northern Arizona University course using The Story of English as its base.