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Review of  English - One Tongue, Many Voices

Reviewer: Lane Gilmour
Book Title: English - One Tongue, Many Voices
Book Author: Jan Svartvik Geoffrey N. Leech
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
History of Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 18.1619

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AUTHORS: Svartvik, Jan; Leech, Geoffrey N.
TITLE: English-One Tongue, Many Voices
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2006

Kane Gilmour, United States English Language Fellow, Sri Lanka


This book claims quite simply to be ''for students and their teachers, and
for anyone who wants a broad and authoritative introduction to the
phenomenon of English worldwide.'' The book is divided into three parts and
a brief introductory chapter (Chapter 1 ''English-The Working Tongue of the
Global Village'') which discusses the concept of varieties of English and
introduces Braj Kachru's Three Concentric Circles model (Kachru, 1985).

The first part, ''The History of an Island Language'', examines the history
of English from its origins to the present day and the chapters are divided
according to era of the language, Old English (Chapter 2 ''The First 500
Years''), Middle English (Chapter 3 ''1066 and All That''), and Modern English
(Chapter 4 ''Modern English in the Making'').

In Chapter 2 the authors begin with the Celtic tribes and the Roman period
with discussions of word stock and the effects of Christianity on the
language. Next the Viking invasions are detailed followed by the
obligatory mention of the epic poem Beowulf. The chapter includes sidebars
on place names, King Alfred the Great, Norse loan words, and Old English
noun inflections.

Chapter 3 examines the Norman period, French loan words, grammatical
changes to the language, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and the introduction
of printing in England. The chapter is supplemented with plentiful
examples, translations, word lists, and sidebar discussions of English
legal vocabulary, animal terms, and placement of stress on French and Latin
loan words.

Chapter 4 on Modern English focuses on Shakespeare, the King James Bible,
and Samuel Johnson's dictionary. The chapter briefly covers some of the
historical events of the time and further looks at the impact of Greek and
Latin on English vocabulary. This chapter also introduces the divide
between descriptivists and prescriptivists as the language began to be
codified. Sidebars cover a diverse group of topics from a 1599 description
of the Globe Theater to a look at the Great Vowel Shift of the fifteenth
century and from the spelling of Shakespeare's name to the riddles in Dan
Brown's ''The Da Vinci Code.''

The second part of the book, ''The Spread of English Around the World'',
examines how the language was transported out of the British Isles (Chapter
5 ''English Goes to the New World'' and Chapter 6 ''English Transplanted''),
looks at varieties in the United Kingdom and Ireland (Chapter 7 ''English
Varieties in the British Isles''), discusses differences between British
English and American English (Chapter 8 ''American and British English''),
and looks at English-based creoles (Chapter 9 ''From Caribbean English to

In Chapter 5, the authors take the reader on a whirlwind tour of American
and Canadian history from colonization into the early twentieth century,
examining linguistic diversity along the way. Additional sidebars cover
Guy Fawkes, the slave trade, loan words from Native American languages,
American dialects, American terminology, Spanish and Yiddish in America,
and Canadian minority languages.

Chapter 6 covers a lot of ground with a focus on Australia, New Zealand,
and South Africa. Asia and the rest of Africa are also generally discussed
as well. Sidebars tackle issues of Australian terminology, the ballad
''Waltzing Matilda'', and an excerpt from Nelson Mandela's autobiography.

Chapter 7 looks at the Received Pronunciation (RP) accent, Estuary English,
Cockney, and Northern and West Country accents. This is followed by
spotlights on English in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Sidebars cover
features of RP, a model of standardization, Scottish terminology, the song
''Auld Lang Syne'', an explanation of Limericks, and a brief rundown of
several Irish writers.

Chapter 8 examines differences and similarities between British English and
American English with plentiful examples. The chapter also discusses
African American Vernacular English. Sidebar topics include American and
British spelling differences, rhoticity, a comparison of the speech style
of George Washington and George W. Bush, American and British grammatical
differences, the Linguistic Society of America's resolution on Ebonics, and
a focus on minority populations in the United States.

Chapter 9, on creoles, defines pidgins and creoles, looks at the life cycle
of creoles, compares Atlantic creole characteristics, and zeroes in on
Sranan, Jamaican creole, and Tok Pisin. Sidebars give examples of Jamaican
creole and Sranan.

The third part of the book, ''A Changing Language in Changing Times'',
focuses on three difficult topics: language standards (Chapter 10 ''The
Standard Language Today''), language change (Chapter 11 ''Linguistics Change
in Progress: Back to the Inner Circle''), and predictions for the future of
the language (Chapter 12 ''English into the Future'').

Chapter 10 considers the written standard, vocabulary, a spectrum from
speech to writing, and the grammaticality of spoken English. Sidebars
compare written Englishes from around the world, spoken versus written
English, and the vocabulary usage from the television series ''Yes, Prime

Chapter 11 delves into linguistic change processes such as
grammaticalization and colloquialization. The chapter tackles
sociolinguistic issues such as gender and liberalization as well as
contemporary issues like electronic English. Sidebars examine written
English affected by speech styles, Western personal names, honorifics in
English, nicknames, and gender-neutral terminology.

Chapter 12 looks at diversification, globalization, English as a Lingua
Franca, native speakers, shifts in England and America, the power of
English on the world stage, and the view that China may be giving English a
run for its money in the future. Sidebars are given to World Spoken
Standard English, the profane language of young people in England, London
creole, and language mixing.

The book also includes a list of abbreviations, an extensive section of
notes, references, an index divided into people and topics, and a guide to


My initial impression upon finishing this book is that while it is the best
book available for the issues covered, it tries too hard to be something
for everyone and as a result loses some of the impact it could have had.

In attempting to make the book accessible to students and lay-readers some
areas end up with little mention or insufficient depth. At the same time,
since this is also a book meant to be used as a text in (tertiary level)
classrooms, the authors occasionally fall victim to assuming the reader is
already familiar with the topic. One example is the level of phonological
detail included in the book. The discussions of phonology would be lost on
the lay-reader and would be difficult at best for students with just one
Introductory Phonetics course under their belts. So taken as an
introductory book on the subject, it is simply too complex. Taken as a
more advanced text for graduate students, teachers, and scholars, the
content is too broad. Any scholars familiar with the works of David
Crystal (1988, 2003, 2004) and Tom McArthur (1998, 2003) will find little
new material here. But what they will notice is that the authors have done
an excellent job of combining a book about the history of the language with
one which examines the current standing of English as a global language.
Which, as mentioned above, is both a good thing and a bad thing. Other
authors tend to stick with one topic or the other in a single volume. For
that reason, this is a great book. A second edition (with expansion of
some areas -- or simplification of others) could make this book just about

In addition to the above issue of direction, the book suffers from some
typesetting issues (one example: the pronunciation guide is frequently
referred to as being on pages 275-276, when it is actually on pages
286-287). The maps are useful but in some cases do not show the level of
detail needed (one example: the Scottish Island of Iona is mentioned
frequently in early chapters but is neither labeled on the UK maps used,
nor is it identified as an island in Scotland in the body of the text).
Finally, the phonological descriptions tend to fall victim to what I call
the Atlantic Phonetic Syndrome. In other words, British authors covering
phonology tend to make errors when discussing American phonology and
American authors do the same when discussing British phonology (one
example: the authors, one of whom is British, claim that ''most Americans
distinguish between 'witch' and 'which' – they pronounce /hw/ in words
spelled with 'wh.''' I would say that the /hw/ pronunciation is very marked
in the GA of today. Henry Rogers (2000) says this distinction is ''common
in the south-eastern United States, and less so elsewhere.'' As an
American who has traveled widely, including in the south-eastern United
States, I have personally come across less than five American speakers who
have made this distinction and all of them were grammar teachers!)

Overall, this is a 'great' reference book and a 'good' text book which
could be made better if the authors make the decision that it should be a
text book for the next edition.


Brown, D. (2003). The Da Vinci code. New York: Doubleday.

Crystal, D. (1988). The English language. London: Penguin Books.

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed.). Cambridge
University Press.

Crystal, D. (2004). The stories of English. London: Penguin Books.

Kachru, B. B. (1985). Standards, codification, and sociolinguistic realism:
The English language in the outer circle. In R. Quirk, & H. G. Widdowson
(Eds.), English in the world, 11–30. Cambridge University Press.

McArthur, T. (1998). The English languages. Cambridge University Press.

McArthur, T. (2003). The Oxford guide to world English. Oxford University

Rogers, H. (2000). The sounds of language: An introduction to phonetics.
Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Limited.

Kane Gilmour is a U.S. Senior English Language Fellow in Sri Lanka
conducting EFL teacher-training. He is completing his dissertation on Sri
Lankan varieties of English. He is interested in World Englishes and
pidgin languages.

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