How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
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 Creole'').
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 Minister.''
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 pronunciation.
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 perfect.
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 Press.
Rogers, H. (2000). The sounds of language: An introduction to phonetics. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Limited.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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.