LINGUIST List 12.1078

Tue Apr 17 2001

Review: English in 19th century England

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  1. bwald, review of G&ouml;rlach, English in 19th century England

Message 1: review of G&ouml;rlach, English in 19th century England

Date: Sun, 15 Apr 2001 23:36:34 -0800
From: bwald <>
Subject: review of G&ouml;rlach, English in 19th century England

G&ouml;rlach, Manfred. (1999). English in Nineteenth Century
England: An Introduction. Cambridge/New York. Cambridge
University Press. (xiii+338 pages. ISBN 0 521 47101 X
hardcover, 0 521 47684 4 paperback).

Reviewed by Benji Wald

True especially to the word "introduction" in the title, G's
book is an encyclopedic survey of 19c English in England,
including texts of a wide variety of genres and topics
(Chapter 9 Texts, 165-285), the grammatical structures
contained and styles of discourse reflected in those texts
(respectively, Chapters 3-6, 44-136 and Chapter 7, Text
types and style: 139-163), and, in various ways, the social
contexts in which those texts were produced (Chapters 1-2,
1-43). In discussion G also, of course, surveys a great deal
of the more recent literature addressed to analysis of
various aspects of English in 19c England.

Like G's previous introduction to Early Modern English, the
book is roughly divided into two equal halves, the first
containing discussion and the second a variety of texts
illustrating, among other things, points made in the
discussion. Also like the previous book, this book has an
idiosyncrasy in the first half of pausing at unexpected but
logical points after discussion of specific topics to ask
questions of the reader as student or researcher. These
little inserts, called "Ex(amples)" by G, first appear in
Chapter 1. Introduction., as Ex. 1: "Try to find evidence of
19th-century EngE features surviving ('as colonial lag') in
exported varieties of English such as AmE and AusE" (p.5). I
was particularly struck in this example by the phrasing
"try". The final example is Ex. 82. of Chapter 7: "Compare
Dickens's treatment of the 'murder case' with T74. How is
the sensational news tailored to the intended readership?"
(p.163). As the preceding discussion makes clear, the
'murder case' at issue is the text type 'murder report in a
newspaper' in chapter 18 of Dickens's Great Expectations.
T74 is the 74th text of Chapter 9, an anonymous broadsheet
taken from a book on 19c street literature (bibliographed in
all due detail in G's Chapter 10, Information on texts and
authors: 286-302). Unlike other textbooks that ask questions
of the reader, the questions asked are not answered in the
book, but suggest further research, which, I would guess in
G's view, propel the reader beyond what he recognizes as
"introductory" to his subject. I appreciate this
idiosyncrasy of G's textbooks and find the questions
thought-provoking and stimulating, as intended.

Now, what about 19c English, even as restricted to that
produced and/or primarily intended for consumption in 19c
England itself? As G readily and promptly admits, with
repetition at various points, that is a difficult question
to answer, and not only because of the vagueness of the
question. It is difficult to answer because of the sheer
quantity and variety exhibited by English in 19c England.
Partly because of the communicative "energy" of the 19c, but
also because we are not so linguistically removed from that
century as we are accustomed to be from historical studies
of the English of earlier periods, it is still difficult to
be struck by the "quaintness" of 19c English (even from the
vantage point of the incipient twenty first century). G does
succeed in identifying some linguistic features which
distinguish the 19th from the 20th century, to which I will
return. The book is less consistent in contrasting 19c with
18c English. The reason for this incompleteness is clear
enough. English in the 18c has not yet been a subject of
general scrutiny, and is thus not available for contrast at
the level of detail required for a survey such as this. In
contrast, 20c English is contemporary with the growth of
synchronic linguistics itself, and has thus been subject to
a great many studies which allow some specific differences
to be identified. In short, G's book is necessarily more
informative about how, as a linguistic object, 19c English
is transitional and anticipatory to more current English
than how it is transitional from the period immediately
preceding it.

One very astute point that G makes in commenting generally
on 19c English is that it is the last period for which the
kind of encyclopedic survey attempted in this book can be
justifiably restricted to WRITTEN English at the expense of
SPOKEN English, even for standard varieties of the language.
That, of course, is a consequence of the development of
audio technology in the 20th century. And it can be
particularly appreciated in view of the difficulties that
scholars encounter in trying to interpret the phonetic
intent of commentators of earlier centuries concerning
pronunciation. G covers this concern in various discussions,
e.g., spelling reform (3.2 pp.46-51) and dialect and
dialectology (2.3 pp.28-36, esp. 2.3.3 The question of
Cockney). In the latter discussion, G provides to advantage
GB Shaw's passage on the difference between literary dialect
and actually spoken dialect (T37 p.214) . Even apart from
phonetics, late 20th century scholarship established that
written genres cannot adequately sample all the spoken
genres that we can be certain will eventually contribute to
the further evolution of even written English -- as they
always have.

Since a previous review of this book for the List adequately
describes its general structure and coverage (12.485 14 Feb
2001), I will restrict further substantive comments to a few
points that initially motivated my interest in the book.
They concern grammatical developments that position 19c
English in the larger stream of linguistic change. They are
discussed in Chapter 5 Syntax (69-91) and Chapter 6 Lexis
(92-137). The most conclusive examples are discussed in
conjunction with studies that present longitudinal graphs of
quantitative data on particular features across time. For
example, p.72 reproduces a graph from Ryd&eacute;n & Brorstr&ouml;m
(1987:200) on the increase of perfect "have" with verbs of
motion, e.g., "he *has* arrived" instead of "he *is*
arrived". The graph shows that the major development of
"have" in this context took place in the 19c (from 38% from
1700-1800 to 92% by 1900). A similar graph on p.74 from
Denison (1998:300) shows a less dramatic decline in the use
of inversion in favor of if-clauses, e.g., "had he known"
in favor of "if he had known", from 36% between 1750 and
1800 to 11% between 1850 and 1900. This example is less
dramatic than the previous, since inversion was already
disfavored in the 18th century, but both examples
illustrate the degree of detail that G presents in his
discussion of linguistic features, in conjunction with a
survey of the scholarly literature, and successfully
demonstrate linguistic changes more characteristic of the
19c than of preceding or subsequent periods in the history
of English.

Less successful is G's own graph comparing three types of
word formation processes from 1500 through the 20th century
(Figure 18 on p.124). The three types of word formation are
1. ZERO-DERIVATION with data adapted from Biese (1941),
unclear in G's exposition for whether this includes both
noun-to-verb and verb-to-noun derivation (although G
exemplifies with the verb *telephone*, noun-to-verb), 2.
VERB+PARTICLE NOMINALIZATION (e.g., *pullover*) adapted from
Lindel&ouml;f (1938), and 3. BACK-FORMATION (e.g., *spectate*,
*babysit* as verbs derived from nominals, *spectator*,
*babysitter*, respectively), adapted from Pennanen (1966).
Following Pennanen on back-formation, G notes that only the
back-formations from compounds (e.g., *babysitter*) are of
structural interest, since they lead to a "new" compound
type, NV. However, in the absence of a comment to the
contrary, he seems to lump both compound and non-compound
back-formations together in the graph, leaving obscure how
much of the increase in the back-formation pattern is an
increase in the structurally significant NV compound type
across time. Much more puzzling about G's graph is how he
quantified the three types. The types are presented as three
distinct lines that indicate the percentage of century-by-
century increase from 1500 to an unlabeled point in the 20th
century (inferable as the completion point of the first
edition of the Oxford English dictionary, from which all
data in the graph are ultimately derived). At that final
point all three lines converge at 100%. But at 100% of WHAT
is not clear to me. My guess is that increase is registered
by taking as a "base" the total number of examples of each
type listed in the OED1 as coined after 1900, and that the
lower percentages for earlier centuries are based on a ratio
of the number of coinages listed for each of those centuries
to the final-period base number. For example, for every 100
coinages of one type between 1900 and the final point in
time (circa 1933), there were, say, 70 coinages of the same
type between 1800 and 1900. This is my guess, but G's
failure to explain the quantification procedure leaves me
insecure. An alternative interpretation of "percentage of
increase" might be to take each century as a base for the
preceding century. The alternative procedures would affect
the trajectories of the lines, and possibly the conclusions
to be drawn.

A final problem with the word formation graph is the most
serious, and may be based on a misprint in distinguishing
the three lines of the graph. In the text, G invites the
reader to contrast the rate of innovation of the oldest
productive pattern, zero-derivation, with the rates for the
other two patterns (VP nominalization and back-formation).
However, the graph singles out the pattern of VP
nominalization (starting at 20% in 1500, whatever that
means) from the other two patterns, which are almost
identical in their trajectories (and start at 0% in 1500).
The VP nominalization, represented by a broken line,
increases regularly from 1500 to the final period, whereas
the other two patterns are relatively flat until a steep
increase from around 30% in 1800 to the 100% already
discussed above for the final time point. Judging from the
text, an editorial error has misidentified the lines, so
that the broken line should have identified 0-derivation
rather than VP nominalization. I hasten to add that the
problems with this graph are an aberration from the usual
clarity with which the book was written and the care with
which it was edited. In my opinion, they are worth pointing
out, particularly because they are general problems in
presenting graphs in all publications, both for the sake of
the clarity with which graphs are discussed and their
potential for editorial error. Apart from that, I was
particularly interested in how diachronic changes in English
use of the zero-derivation pattern might be detected. Few
studies have yet detected an INCREASE in the use of that
pattern in recent periods relative to older periods. For
this reason, G's discussion is a valuable contribution,
despite its shortcomings and the necessarily summary

Considering the vast amount of information and
comprehensiveness of G's book, my extensive comment on a
relatively small detail can be taken positively as a sign of
how useful this book can be as a general starting point for
almost any topic in 19c English. I unhesitatingly recommend
the book to anyone who has any interest in the history of
English, especially in its more recent periods.

Biese, Y.M. 1941. Origin and development of conversion in English.
 Helsinki: Suonalainen Tiedeakatemia.
Denison, David. 'Syntax'. In Suzanne Romaine, ed. The Cambridge
 History of the English Language: 1776-Present-day.
 (Vol.4.) Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 92-329.
G&ouml;rlach, Manfred. 1991. Introduction to Early Modern
 English. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Linel&ouml;f, U. L. 1938. English verb-adverb groups converted
 into nouns. Helsinki: Societas Scentiarum Fennica.
Pennanen, E. V. 1966. Contribution to the study of back-formation
 in English. Tampere: JYK.
Ryd&eacute;n, Mets & Sverker Brorstr&ouml;m. 1987.
 The be/have variation with intransitives in English.
 Stockholm: Stockholm Studies in English, 70.

- ---------------
The reviewer's specialties include linguistic diversification,
multilingualism and speech behavior in English and Swahili. This
led him to interest and expertise in linguistic applications to
relevant professional spheres of social activity, e.g., education,
law, machine-human interface technologies. He also maintains a
strong interest in long-term grammatical change, esp. in English
and its relatives, and among the Bantu languages.
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