Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Algeo, John TITLE: British or American English? SUBTITLE: A Handbook of Words and Grammar Patterns PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press. YEAR: 2006 ANNOUNCED AT: http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-2775.html
Carrie A. Ankerstein, Department of Human Communication Sciences, University of Sheffield, England
John Algeo's book _British or American English?: a handbook of words and grammar patterns_ is part of a series entitled _Studies in English Language_ which aims to represent theoretical and descriptive contributions to the study of national varieties of English, both written and spoken. Algeo's focus is on British and American English and how they differ in terms of grammar and word usage.
Algeo notes that other comparative studies have been carried out contrasting the two forms of English, but argues these have focused, for the most part, on intonation, pronunciation and vocabulary. Grammatical differences have been less comprehensively explored.
This study takes American as its reference point and describes British English usage in relation to it. The rationale for this approach is that there are more native speakers of American English and that this form is becoming more dominant in non-native countries, excepting Western Europe.
The data were gathered over 20 years based on the author's intuitive sense of British usage. These intuitions were later confirmed via consultation of corpora. Algeo notes the value of corpora, but also the limitations. For example, corpora differ in size and type of text, making comparisons difficult. Some corpora are also not extensively tagged, making searches difficult. Algeo states a few solutions to some of these problems and confesses that, where necessary, intuition was used as far as British usages were concerned.
The most commonly used corpus in the book is the Cambridge International Corpus (CIC). The corpus contains written and spoken texts for British and American English. These categories differed in size, but were weighted equally for the purposes of the study. There was no separation of written and spoken texts. Algeo argues that ignoring this distinction is unlikely to affect the general conclusions concerning British and American usage.
All citations used in the book are of British usage, mostly drawn from the author's collection over 20 years. These ''real life English'' samples are chiefly drawn from newspapers and popular fiction.
Conventions and abbreviations are clearly described prior to the entries. For example, many statistics are given as ''x iptmw'' where x is a number of ''instances per two million words'' a convention used by the CIC. Also ''common-core English'' is defined as usages that are common to British and American English, with little difference between the two forms. The book is written assuming no prior knowledge of linguistics and is described as an ''accessible account of how English is actually used''. However, there is some unexplained terminology that may pass the lay-reader by, including terms such as ''productive suffix'', though this is unlikely to prove to be a hurdle in using and understanding the entries.
There are 17 chapters. The first 10 deal with parts of speech, including: verbs, determiners, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, qualifiers, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections. The final seven chapters are concerned with syntactic constructions, including: complementation, mandative constructions, expanded predicates, concord, propredicates, tag questions and miscellaneous. The miscellaneous section includes topics such as focus, phatic language, numbers and dates. There is also a bibliography of British book citation sources; a bibliography of studies, dictionaries and corpora used; and an index of words.
The chapters on syntactic constructions do not treat all matters of English syntax, as there is little variation between the two forms. Instead, focus is on a few matters that do show significant differences. These include, for example, the characteristically British construction of the use of a nation's name as a modifying noun phrase, yielding ''Turkey carpets'' rather than ''Turkish carpets'' and ''Bulgaria Quidditch robes'' as opposed to ''Bulgarian...''. Also covered are the differences in use of the definite article ''the''. Algeo explains that following certain prepositions, the definite article is absent in British English, making for example ''out of hospital'' where the American speaker would say ''out of the hospital.'' In some cases, the source of the difference is given. This includes the origin of the suffix -er(s) that is generally added to the first syllable of a noun, creating ''brekkers'' for breakfast, ''fresher'' for freshman and ''rugger'' for rugby. This, explains Algeo, started out as Oxbridge (a compound of Oxford and Cambridge, referring to the universities) and public (American: private) school slang.
What the book does not provide is definitions of words or phrases used, including terms such as Oxbridge and the difference between the American and British meanings of ''public school''. Definitions are also omitted in the chapter covering interjections. For example, the British interjection ''Bob's your uncle'' is listed, but the meaning of which is unexplained. In some cases, the meaning can be gleaned from the citation given, e.g., ''I was getting out of the car when -- Bob's yer uncle -- there was Peter Finch paying off his taxi''. [Bob's your uncle means something like ''there you are''.] Thus, it may be necessary for some readers to consult a dictionary for unknown words or phrases.
A forgivable omission is some comment on the differences in punctuation in British and American English. Clearly, this is a study of grammatical differences, but since the entries include both spoken and written texts, some discussion on differences in punctuation conventions might have been relevant.
Whilst being an excellent reference for those who study comparative linguistics, Algeo's book is also useful for teachers of English as a Foreign Language who must cover American and British English, whilst being a native user of one or the other. It is also possibly useful for confused ex-pats of either side of the Atlantic who find some phrases odd or just plain ungrammatical.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Carrie Ankerstein is currently a post-doctoral research assistant at the University of Sheffield, England, having completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Human Communication Sciences at the University of Sheffield in December. She has an M.Phil. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Cambridge, England and a B.A. in German Linguistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA and the Albert-Ludwig's University in Freiburg, Germany. She has taught English as a second language in Germany and has also taught on Linguistics modules at the University of Sheffield. Her research interests include psycholinguistics and implicit language processing.