Review: MJ Harper – The History of Britain Revealed


MJ Harper - The History of Britain Revealed

What an audacious little book. I was suspicious from the outset… no author biography, no index, and no bibliography.


This had to be the ravings of a madman. However, it’s really a tight little essay, and rather than revealing any new ‘factual’ material, instead manages to convincingly confront the accepted mythologies of the origins of British peoples and their languages.The History of Britain Revealed provokes more questions than it provides answers.
The reader is thrown straight into chapter 1. ‘An Englishman’s Home’, a rant about the prevailing myths about the Anglo-Saxons, and how they managed to completely ‘replace’ the language of England with their own. Alarm bells went on… it’s a rant, I thought, albeit an amusing one. It will endure for a chapter or two, then probably peter out into vague claims and unsubstantiated evidence. I was wrong. The author, for all their sniping at academia and unexpected vague personal references, has employed pure logic to dissect the conceits of history, and how these beliefs are controlled by that old fortean chestnut, cognitive dissonance as well as nationalist agendas.
In just 140 pages, Harper manages to attack the Oxford English Dictionary (it’s a mess), argue that neither Old or Middle English ever really existed, and show that most of what we believe about our cultures is based on how historians and linguists are constantly backing each other up, just so no one will be accused of being wrong. Is English really a Germanic language? If so, why is is full of Latin? Is Latin based on French, instead of the other way around? Out of a list of countries that include Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, why are the Anglo-Saxons the only invaders, who unlike the the Visigoths, Vandals, Arabs, Burgundians, Danes, Normans, Ostrogoths, Lombards and Franks to invade a country – Britain, in their case and effect a permanent change on the language.
Whether you agree with Harper or not, this is, in fact, a very fortean book. In starts off with a big bag of beliefs, and ends up with a box of maybes.
The History of Britain Revealed (Amazon.com)
The History of Britain Revealed (Amazon.co.uk)

daev
Chief Bottle Washer at Blather
Writer, photographer, environmental campaigner and "known troublemaker" Dave Walsh is the founder of Blather.net, described both as "possibly the most arrogant and depraved website to be found either side of the majestic Shannon River", and "the nicest website circulating in Ireland". Half Irishman, half-bicycle. He lives in southern Irish city of Barcelona.

5 comments

  1. I will always recommend this book to anyone who is even remotely interested in languages, history, archaeology – or just wants to enjoy a cracking good read. Mr Harper manages language quite masterly himself, IMHO, and one is in for some surprises, he makes one really re-think just about everything one has ever learned at school (or University). I loved it so much I had to read it three times.
    Go buy it, folks – you’ll not regret it!
    Cheers, Tani

  2. It’s a needlessly insulting little book, and at least partially incorrect. Still, it’s an interesting book because it may be partially right.
    I hope the right people read it, and manage to overlook the insults and errors.
    1) His description of evolutionary biology and the problem of fossil ancestors is just uninformed. He makes the common error in assuming that we humans have evolved and improved, but our ancestral species have not. Then, he wonders “where our the ancestral species?”
    Silly! The ancestral species have evolved too. It’s basically symmetric: we and the apes both evolved from a common ancestor. We are as much the ancestral species of a chimpanzee as chimpanzees are our ancestors. The reason that ancestral species are not here any more is simply that all species change with time because their environments change and because of genetic drift.
    Now, this is not the central point, but it’s well known and has been well popularized by people like Stephen Gould, so
    it’s something that he should have known when writing the book. You have to wonder what other errors there are?
    2) He tells a story about how academics avoid dealing with inconsistencies in their data. It sounds plausible enough, and may even sometimes be partially true. But, academics are not just fat cats who are trapped in their boyhood myths. Most of us are curious and want to know what was really going on.
    Most of us understand that conforming to the standard model is indeed a good way to live quietly and comfortably, but we also know that there is nothing better than breaking the standard model, if it can be proven to be wrong.
    The model breakers are the people who are remembered by history and the ones who get the juicy academic posts and prized. The quiet people who conform may live comfortably, but they tend to live comfortably in second rate, out-of-the way institutions.
    So, while there are forces for conformity in academia, there are also forces for revolution. If an academic discipline slides into slothful conformity, you can be sure it is because real proof is unobtainable, not because people are too blind to see it. If it were clear evidence, some ambitious junior lecturer would grab it, and use it.
    So, don’t take the book too seriously. It’s probably wrong. Still, it has an interesting idea or two in there. Do we really know that the common people in AD 800 spoke Anglo-Saxon? Do we really know that in 55 BCE they spoke British (i.e. a Celtic language)? How do we know that they didn’t speak something rather closer to modern English?
    I don’t know the answers, but I’ll keep an eye open. Just in case he’s right, it might give my career quite a boost.

  3. Ignore the parts where Harper comments on Evolution etc. His strong point is how he has highlighted the glarring errors made by academics over the years. While they acknowledge that the Romans and Normans were a minority elite who never imposed their language, suddenly they assume that everyone spoke Anglo Saxon..an incomprehensible language, and not just an Elite. Suddenly in about 1150 the Norman monks begin almost miraculously to write in pretty much modern English. How did this happen. Easy, the proletarian English didnt write until after the Normans arrived. Harper throws a lot of very witty pies at academia..and oh boy do they need them.

  4. Open Letter to M.J.Harper
    Dear Sir,
    I was sincerely pleased to read your book, entitled “The history of Britain revealed”. I liked the content: a strong and clever demonstration. I liked the way you express your mind: the disrespectful tone you are using to address these Academics unable to objectively analyse the preposterous and unjustified aspects of their theory.
    I agree with you on two majors points
    The English language doesnt come from the Anglo-Saxon one
    French doesnt come from Latin
    I have a different vision on a key aspect of your theory that I’d like to discuss with you
    According to you, French people already spoke French at the Roman time (This theory has already been supported by Granier de Cassagnac, more than 100 years ago.)

    I reckon the Romans didnt bring Latin but the language they were already speaking, which was Italian and not a “common Latin”
    I disagree on 2 points :

    Latin vocabulary is not similar to the Roman languages one. I invite you to read my book : “French doesnt come from Latin” which highlights the differences between French and Latin vocabularies.
    Latin isn’t an artificial language. E.g. The Plaute and Terence’s Theatre.
    At the end of day our opinons merge on the most important: Our licensed linguists really suffer from a lack of credibility.
    Yves Cortez
    Author of « Le français ne vient pas du latin »

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