Easy Serbian


Captain Keyworth was a talented linguist, contributing as joint or sole author, mostly sole, to at least six phrasebooks published during the First World War; lest anyone suspect that his was an invented name, J S Keyworth contributed after the war to a series of language books for travellers: Dutch, Spanish, Danish and Italian for the Traveller, which were also translated into the recipient languages. We would like to hear more of Captain Keyworth, as the Dictionary of National Biography does not have an entry on him. Clearly one of those successfully supplying the need for phrasebooks, he was rewarded with two editions each of his Easy French  and Easy German For Our Men Abroad … in 1914.




The title Easy … for our men abroad and How to Pronounce it was applied across all six titles shown on the back cover, though we have yet to check if the same set of words was translated each time (more on this later) – the food list does have plum brandy and paprika and mince, which might be harder to find in France. Most noticeable is the instant entrance into the tumult of conflict – Where are our men? Over there. Up there. Down there. Here. I don’t know. Impressive too is the addressing of the reality of war: He is wounded, dead, unconscious, killed. And the sense of a meaningful and useful conversation: Have you seen the woman? That is my mother. The military terms include an extended list of the national groupings to be found in the Balkan theatre of war – Bosnians, Montenegrins, Roumanians [contemporary spelling], Greeks, but the all-important ‘I don’t understand’, ‘Speak slowly’ and ‘I don’t speak Serbian’ are quite hard to find – why are these phrases not right at the beginning?


Keyworth was also smart in using the quote from the Daily Mail, also appearing on the French edition, so presumably across all titles; the mention of the Red Cross would have appealed to VADs and others serving abroad. I am going to take the liberty here of pasting in a quote from another blog, which discusses the French version, https://variblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/easy-french-for-our-men-abroad-and-how-to-pronounce-it/


“The need for supplementing the average Briton’s extremely fragmentary knowledge of French and German- has led to the formation of language classes for recruits of the new army, and many pocket dictionaries and conversation manuals have been published from time to time for the use of the men already in the field. Amongst the latter it would be difficult to find anything better than Captain Keyworth’s Easy French and Easy German. Small enough to be carried inside an ordinary pocket-book, these leaflets contain phrases and words most likely to be required by the soldier…” – The British Medical Journal, February 13, 1915.


The source of this review also merits exploration. Next blog. Nevill Forbes was one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated Russian language scholars in Britain; his Russian Grammar, first published in 1914, was edited for its third edition in 1990.

One thought on “Easy Serbian”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: