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April 3, 2013

White’s history of English language finds receptive audience

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Almost all of us have heard that phrase. Most of us probably know that it comes from the King James Bible. But how many know that the phrase did not originate with the King James translation of the Bible. It actually came from an earlier translation of the Bible into English by William Tyndale.

Tyndale was put to death for heresy in 1536. But just two years later, his translation became the basis for The Great Bible of the Church of England. And more than 70 years later, his translation would profoundly influence the translation of the Bible authorized by King James I of England.

“Over 80 percent of the language in the King James Bible comes from Tyndale,” said Dalton native Laurie J. White, author of “King Alfred’s English: A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do.”

“Tyndale could have used different words, different phrases in his translation. But the ones he did use have come down to us through history and influenced the way we still speak and write today,” she said.

White, born Laurie Jones, grew up in Dalton and graduated from Dalton High School in 1968. She majored in English at Auburn University, graduating in 1972. After returning to Dalton briefly, she moved to Atlanta to work as a live-in counselor at the Salvation Army Girls Lodge on Peachtree Street for about two years.

“Of all the jobs I’ve had, that remains my favorite. Atlanta was still covered up in hippies, especially the downtown area. There was a big drug scene, and there were a lot of girls who were just camping out downtown, and they could come in,” she said. “If they were underaged, they could stay for three days without us calling anybody. But during that time we tried to work with them and get them to call home. If they were of age, we’d give them lodging until they could find work. We were mainly trying to get them out of the drug scene.”

She then served as the secretary in the chaplain’s office at Crawford Long Hospital (now Emory University Hospital Midtown) for eight years.

“I had married in 1979, and when we had our first child we moved to Covington where my husband built a log house, and I homeschooled our three children,” she said.

Rebecca, now 30, Hetty, now 28, and Robert Lee, now 26, were all homeschooled until they reached high school and then they attended a homeschool cooperative. White says her efforts at homeschooling led to the writing of “King Alfred’s English.”

“I took a course in the history of the English language at Auburn from Frederick Montesor. Even at that time, I thought it was a shame that none of this was being taught to younger children. You don’t even get it in college unless you are an English major. I’d go back to my room and tell my roommates stuff that I was learning, and they thought it was interesting, too,” she said. “As I was homeschooling, I’d try to impart that knowledge to my kids, and I thought even then that I might put it together and market it to homeschoolers. After my son graduated, I started teaching part time at the cooperative where they had been and then I started working on the book.”

After finishing the book and publishing it herself, she began to market it to fellow homeschoolers.

“There’s a lot of church history in there because the church is so tied into the development of the English language. But it isn’t just for Christian homeschoolers,” she said.

In fact, the book is currently being used at Dalton State College by professor Wesley Davis for a course on the history of the English language.

“My students are really enjoying it. It’s very readable. My students all praise it as interesting and enlightening. It’s historically accurate, and it’s very affordable,” he said. “There are other textbooks out there, but they are much more expensive.”

White, who recently moved back to Dalton, has authored and published two other books. Her first book, published in 2008, is “Baktar: A Tale from the Andes.”

“Baktar is this story that we created about our cat Tar. The whole family contributed to this tale. His ancestor was supposed to be this cat that lived with the Inca Indians. I wrote it so that my kids would remember this story that we made up about our cat,” she said. “I took that and threw in some history and a lot of details about the Incas. It took me about a year. It has a story about our cat Tar, and then it has this interior story about Baktar, his ancestor who grew up with the Emperor Pachacuti. There is evidence that he (Pachacuti) turned from worshipping the Inca sun god to worshipping an invisible creator god.”

And her latest book is “Barn Roofs, Quail Coveys and General Mischief.”

“That’s a collection of stories my father, Alfred Jones, told me about growing up in Dalton with his brothers,” she said.

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