* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
LINGUIST List logo Eastern Michigan University Wayne State University *
* People & Organizations * Jobs * Calls & Conferences * Publications * Language Resources * Text & Computer Tools * Teaching & Learning * Mailing Lists * Search *
* *

LINGUIST List 24.2262

Sat Jun 01 2013

Review: Historical Linguistics; General Linguistics: Mugglestone (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 22-Apr-2013
From: Jessie Sams <samsjsfasu.edu>
Subject: The Oxford History of English
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-4638.html

EDITOR: Lynda Mugglestone
TITLE: The Oxford History of English
SUBTITLE: Revised Edition
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Jessie Sams, Stephen F. Austin State University

In the Introduction, Lynda Mugglestone writes that “the emphasis throughout
the following volume is placed on the construction of ‘a history’ rather than
‘the history’, recognizing many other pathways could be navigated through the
past--and present--of the English language” (2). The path this text takes is
one that asks its readers to:

“rethink the various aspects of the history for the English language—to engage
with the past through private as well as public discourses, to look at the
usage of men and women, of standard and non-standard speakers, at English at
the borders and margins of time and space, from prehistory to the
present-day, and as subject to the changing pressures and contexts which
constantly influence usage, as well as to examine some of the motives and
explanations which may underpin change as it took place within the past” (7).

The intended audience includes both beginning students and interested
scholars, as evidenced through the use of short texts with appropriate glosses
(and translating in full where necessary), explanations of terminology used,
and full sections of suggested further readings at the end of each chapter.
Each chapter also footnotes sources directly quoted and/or summarized in the
text. The footnotes often are shown with commentary on the source(s) being
cited and include related readings to direct interest readers to similar

The chapters are organized primarily chronologically, though groups of
chapters focus on the same time periods but analyze the language usage from
different angles during that same time period. While the chapters are not separated
into groups, I have grouped the fourteen chapters into four major groups: prehistory
and earliest attestations of English (including Old and Middle English), Early Modern
English, moving toward Modern English, and the English language today.

The first four chapters cover the prehistory and earliest forms of the English
language. In Chapter 1, “Preliminaries: Before English,” Terry Hoad writes
about the Indo-European and Germanic beginnings of what would become the Old
English language and discusses linguistic concepts like language families,
historical linguistics, proto-languages, and Grimm’s Law. Chapter 2,
“Beginnings and Transitions: Old English,” by Susan Irvine, moves on to the
Old English language and she organizes the chapter--and its example
texts--around “five historical watersheds” (41): the Anglo-Saxon invasion of
Britain, the rise of Christianity, King Alfred’s reign, the Benedictine
Reform, and the Norman Conquest. The third chapter, “Contacts and Conflicts:
Latin, Norse, and French,” by Matthew Townend, addresses the role of language
contact in the development of medieval English, specifically focusing on Latin
(ecclesiastical influence), Norse (Viking influence), and French (the Norman
Conquest). And, finally, in Chapter 4, “Middle English: Dialects and
Diversity,” Marilyn Corrie discusses (as the title suggests) dialectal
diversity in Middle English but also discusses the anxieties of scholars about
the English language, which began the initial waves of standardization, and
the changing roles of written language in society.

The next four chapters cover roughly the same time frame, the late fifteenth
through late seventeenth centuries. In Chapter 5, “From Middle to Early Modern
English,” Jeremy J. Smith addresses the fours stages of standardization in
English during the transition from Middle to Early Modern English
(elaboration, selection, codification, and acceptance), weaving together the
internal and external histories of the language to show how the language
progressed through those four stages. Chapter 6, “Restructuring Renaissance
English,” by April McMahon, discusses changes to long and short vowels during
the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and, thus, the debate surrounding what
many term the Great Vowel Shift. In the seventh chapter, “Mapping Change in
Tudor English,” Terttu Nevalainen writes about specific linguistic features of
sixteenth-century English and the use of corpora to distinguish these
features; the primary features discussed are verbal ‘-(e)th’ versus the
‘-(e)s’ ending, the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘thou’, and ‘do’ as an auxiliary verb.
In the eighth chapter, “The Babel of Renaissance English,” Paula Blank aims to
debunk the myth that English was largely standardized by late Renaissance
English by examining regional dialects and sociolects.

Chapters 9 and 10 both cover English from the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. In “English at the Onset of the Normative Tradition,” Ingrid
Tieken-Boon Van Ostade further discusses standardization, focusing on how
geographical and social mobility of speakers during the eighteenth century led
to the (near) completion of the four stages of standardization noted in
Smith’s chapter. She analyzes language from personal correspondence and a wide
variety of writers (male/female, differing levels of education, class
distinctions) and information from grammars. In “English in the Nineteenth
Century,” Lynda Mugglestone points out that while many regard the English of
the nineteenth century as a language that has been stabilized, there was still
a great deal of change in the language--especially when considering private
writings and dialectal variations. She also discusses the origins of the Old
English Dictionary.

The final four chapters cover English today. In Chapter 11, “Modern Regional
English in the British Isles,” Clive Upton discusses the beginnings of
dialectology, how regional dialect areas are defined, and features that vary
(pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar). Throughout, he reminds readers that
dialects are not easily pinned down and that even strongly distinctive
regional features can be muddied by other factors, such as education level,
socioeconomic status, gender, and geographic mobility of individual speakers.
In the twelfth chapter, “English Among the Languages,” Richard W. Bailey
discusses language interaction between English and other languages from the
fourteenth century to today, focusing on borrowings, pidgins/creoles, and
speaker attitudes toward other languages and other “Englishes.” In Chapter 13,
“English World-wide in the Twentieth Century,” Tom McArthur writes about the
changes to English in the twentieth century, its growing status as a global
language, and the difficulties of defining “English” due to that growth. The
final chapter, “Into the Twenty-first Century,” by David Crystal, addresses
three major areas in which the long-term consequences are unknown:
globalization, the Internet, and educational change.

This book does indeed reach the goals included in Mugglestone’s introduction
(see summary above). The chapters use a variety of sources when examining the
status of the language--including, for example, private and public documents,
male and female authors, and standard and non-standard usage. Moreover,
authors tend to focus not just on the language itself but on the context of
the changes (i.e., the majority of the chapters do not provide technical
linguistic analyses of the language but instead offer a description of the
types of changes taking place and potential reasons for those changes).

The book can be used by independent scholars; however, independent scholars
who wish to read a history of the English language with a focus on the
linguistic features themselves (or with a focus on more technical information
about those features) may wish to look elsewhere (e.g., Algeo 2010, Freeborn
2006). This book focuses more on the underpinnings of the changes than on the
changes themselves, making it more appropriate for readers interested in
sociolinguistic information, such as shifts in attitudes toward language
varieties over time.

The book can definitely be used by advanced students in an upper-level college
classroom but could also be modified for more beginning students through
accompanying lecture and classroom discussion. For example, chapters freely
use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) but don’t stop to explain what
IPA is. In the list of IPA symbols with corresponding words for pronunciation
in the front matter of the book, students without introductory knowledge of
IPA may miss some of the distinctions being made by, for example, sound
changes in English that only affected particular phonological categories
(e.g., voiceless fricatives).

When original texts are provided, only short excerpts are given (culled for
their use of a specific feature or to showcase a specific dialect). These
“snapshots” are especially helpful for beginning students--they provide
smaller amounts of information to digest when thinking about linguistic
principles and yet still provide solid examples of language during that time
frame. All texts are also either fully translated or glossed (words not
related to modern forms are defined in the sidebar).

Before reading the book, my biggest concern was coherence; I was worried that
such a text would be jarring when each chapter was written in a different
authorial voice. However, the chapters tie nicely together, with each
mentioning previous and/or future chapters, and no single chapter stands out
as being written by a different author. Even though some features may change
from chapter to chapter, they are not noticeable enough to feel as though
changing chapters is like changing books.

The use of terminology is largely cohesive throughout the text; for example,
the four stages of standardization are first mentioned by Smith (Chapter 5)
and then again by Tieken-Boon Van Ostade (Chapter 9), both using the same
terminology and type of approach. There are a few instances, though, of mixed
terminology. For example, if students are unaware of terminology for time
periods, they may get confused on three chapters in particular: Chapters 6-8
cover the same time period from different angles; however, McMahon
refers to it as ‘Renaissance English’ in Chapter 6, Nevalainen as ‘Tudor
English’ in Chapter 7, and Blank as ‘Renaissance English’ again in Chapter 8.
These labels are used without reference to one another, and even I had to look
up information on the labels to verify that they were, indeed, referring to
the same time period. Matters like these are simple to explain in a course,
but students attempting self-study need to be motivated enough to do a little
outside research to better understand labels and terminology employed
throughout the text.

One difference between this text and others like it is its emphasis on more
modern Englishes, as opposed to a heavier emphasis on Old and Middle English.
For example, Freeborn (2006) and Baugh and Cable (2013) devote nearly half of
their books to Old and Middle English while this text has only three out of
fourteen chapters specifically devoted to Old and Middle English. Scholars and
teachers who want to spend more time on those older forms of the language will
not benefit as much from this text.

The chapters do not provide labeled “Future Research” sections, but many do
mention areas that are understudied; for example, when writing about personal
letters during the eighteenth century, Tieken-Boon Van Ostade writes that “a
vast amount of material is therefore still waiting to be analysed” (311).
Other authors mention specific corpora and how scholars can utilize such
modern tools to further aid research. Some chapters provide (by design or
happy accident) sections that could easily serve as prompts for student
essays. An example is found in the conclusion of Blank’s chapter on
Renaissance English: “The earliest language reformers, seeking to ‘remedy
Babel’, hoped to promote intellectual clarity and cultural cohesion, and yet,
what might have been lost--even in terms of their own goals--had they found a
way to rule or suppress what Thomas Sprat, on behalf of the Royal Society,
condemned in 1667 as ‘this vicious abundance of ‘Phrase’ . . . this volubility
of ‘Tongue’, which makes so great a noise in the World’?” (295) Such questions
could easily serve as fodder for researched essays in--or outside--the

“The Oxford History of English” is the best text I have found to date to use
as the primary text for my History of the English Language course. After
teaching that course in a variety of ways to a mixture of students (some of
whom have never heard the word ‘linguistics’ before while others have already
taken several linguistics courses), I believe the approach taken in this
volume is the best for such a classroom. Its incorporation of original texts
without overwhelming students, along with the many suggested further readings,
will allow me to more easily adapt the information to both beginning and more
advanced students.

Algeo, John. 2010. The Origins and Development of the English Language (6th
ed.). Boston: Wadsworth.

Baugh, Albert C. and Thomas Cable. 2013. A History of the English Language
(6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Freeborn, Dennis. 2006. From Old English to Standard English: A Course Book in
Variation across Time (3rd ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jessie Sams is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Stephen F. Austin
State University in Nacogdoches, TX. Her primary research interests include
the intersection of syntax and semantics, English quotatives, English grammar,
and history of the English language.
Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Page Updated: 01-Jun-2013

Supported in part by the National Science Foundation       About LINGUIST    |   Contact Us       ILIT Logo
While the LINGUIST List makes every effort to ensure the linguistic relevance of sites listed on its pages, it cannot vouch for their contents.