Review of Language in the USA
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2005 13:08:26 -0600
From: Rachel Shuttlesworth
Subject: Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century
EDITORS: Finegan, Edward; Rickford, John R.
TITLE: Language in the USA
SUBTITLE: Themes for the Twenty-first Century
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
Rachel E. Shuttlesworth, University Libraries, University of Alabama
"Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century," edited by
Edward Finegan and John Rickford, is a collection of short scholarly
essays that offers an expansive overview of linguistic topics in the USA.
This volume is an appropriate textbook for upper-level undergraduate and
graduate courses that address language issues in the USA, but can also
serve as an approachable introduction for a general audience, as well as a
concise, current summary and update for linguistics scholars. While one's
understanding of the text would likely be enriched by some previous
knowledge of linguistics, "Language in the USA" is written so that little
or no prior experience is necessary. The chapters maintain a social
perspective on the subject matter addressed, continuously reminding the
reader that language cannot be isolated from its societal situations. As
Geoffrey Nunberg states in his Foreword (xiii-xvi): "the chapters in this
Language in the USA make clear [that] there is virtually no important
social issue or cultural development in American life that isn't somehow
signaled in language" (xv). The creation of this volume was motivated by
the need to return to issues addressed in the first "Language in the USA"
(Ferguson and Heath, 1981) as well as developments of the past two
decades. It is intended to complement, not replace, the seminal 1981
The book comprises three parts: "American English," "Other Language
Varieties," and "The Sociolinguistic Situation." Each of its twenty-six
chapters is introduced by the editors and includes recommended further
The first section includes six chapters that discuss American English
varieties, including their histories, features, social variation, and
methods of their study.
The first chapter (3-17), "American English: its origins and history," by
Richard W. Bailey, examines the genesis of American English varieties
through the lens of settlement history. Bailey demonstrates that the
American English lexicon comes from a complex social situation, where
Amerindian, European, and African languages and peoples coexisted. He also
offers a brief account of early nineteenth century debates regarding the
value of American English as a marker of national identity.
In Chapter 2 (18- 38), "American English and its distinctiveness," Edward
Finegan addresses the actual and perceived differences between American
and British English varieties. Finegan examines variations in American and
British pronunciations (represented with the International Phonetic
Alphabet and pronunciation-based respellings), lexical items, grammar,
semantics, discourse, and orthography.
Chapter 3 (39-57), "Regional Dialects," by William A. Kretzschmar, Jr.,
points out the problems with broad generalizations regarding regional
speech, yet acknowledges that Americans are justified in thinking that
persons from distinct areas speak English differently. Kretzschmar
presents historical origins of and linguistic examples from U.S. regional
dialects using maps and tables, including an explanation of the creation
and use of these scholarly tools.
In the fourth chapter (58-75), "Social varieties of American English,"
Walt Wolfram discusses group-based linguistic differences and the value
judgments that accompany them. Wolfram explains the consensus and conflict
models of class interaction, as well as the systematic variability of
dialect features and the distinctions between the sociolinguistic
terms 'stereotype', 'social marker', and 'social indicator.'
Chapter 5 (76-91), "African American English" by Lisa Green, discusses
aspects of African American English (AAE) historical and linguistic
issues. Green addresses complex issues, beginning with the debates
regarding the names and origins ascribed to African American English
(AAE), then moving to the linguistic system of AAE.
The last essay in Part 1 is Chapter 6 (92- 112) Joan Houston Hall's "The
Dictionary of American Regional English," (DARE), which offers readers an
introduction to collecting and classifying instances of linguistic
variation. Hall describes the DARE methodology, history, and maps, as well
as the social, age, gender, racial and other patterns made perceptible by
the DARE findings.
Part 2: "Other Language Varieties" covers issues related to non-English
languages in the USA. As may be necessary considering the convolution of
political and linguistic issues in the topics addressed, several of these
chapters include more of a tone of advocacy than is present in Part 1.
In Chapter 7 (115-132), "Multilingualism and non-English mother tongues,"
Joshua Fishman dispels popular myths about multilingualism and addresses
the cultural need for its promotion. Fishman offers numeric data to
demonstrate how in the USA sidestream (his term for 'non-mainstream')
cultures and non-English languages are quickly assimilated and he argues
for national efforts towards proactive multilingualism awareness and
education, as well as the creation of cultural democracy.
In Chapter 8 (133-152), "Creole languages: forging new identities,"
Patricia Nichols examines the linguistic situations of the creoles found
in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Hawai'i and gives general information
regarding creole formation. The chapter includes sections on Gullah,
Hawaiian Creole, and Louisiana Creole. For each, its history, features,
and current circumstances are discussed.
In Chapter 9 (153-181), "Native American languages," Akira Y. Yamamoto and
Ofelia Zepeda offer linguistic examples that illustrate the vast diversity
among Native American languages with regard to concepts such as gender,
number, animacy, possession, and substance. The authors describe the
geographical and numeric scope of each language, emphasizing that many of
these languages face extinction. Also discussed are the history of and
reasoning behind the USA's discouraging record of oppression of Native
American cultures and languages, as well as current linguistic
preservation and rejuvenation efforts by Native American and scholarly
Ana Celia Zentella writes Chapter 10 (182- 204), "Spanish in the
Northeast" focusing on the diversity of national origin amongst Spanish
speakers in the Northeast and their differing receptions, experiences, and
success levels in USA society. Zentella covers pronunciation and lexical
variation in Spanish dialects of the Northeast, as well as ongoing changes
caused by their contact with each other and English.
In Chapter 11 (205- 229), "Spanish in the Southwest," Carmen Silva-
Corvalán, explores the long history of Spanish in the Southwest. The
chapter includes discussion of Southwest population figures, the history
and features of Southwest Spanish, and its relationship to English. The
author also examines the apparent growth and vitality of Southwest
Spanish, as well as its dependency on a constant influx of Spanish
speakers, not on the intergenerational transmission of Spanish
In Chapter 12 (230-244), "American Sign Language," Ceil Lucas and Clayton
Valli offer information about signed language in the USA, including the
challenges faced in the development of ASL and Deaf culture. Lucas and
Valli also explore ASL features, including vocabulary formation and sign
structure, as well as other modes of communication used by and with deaf
In Chapter 13 (245-267), "Asian American voices: language in the Asian
American community," Thom Huebner and Linda Uyechi give historical
information and statements from speakers regarding Asian languages in the
USA and explore the multiplicity of national and linguistic identities
each group of speakers has brought to the USA. Huebner and Uyechi discuss
immigration laws, the role of English varieties in building Asian American
communities and identities, as well as the language-based discrimination
encountered by Asian Americans, and the differences between Asian and USA
Robert Bayley's Chapter 14 (268-288), "Linguistic diversity and English
language acquisition," examines the USA's varied linguistic situation,
debunking many common preconceptions about language in the USA. Bayley
discusses census data trends, as well as myths and realities regarding the
cognitive effects of bilingualism. The shift to English by immigrants is
also examined, as are the classroom and untutored means immigrants use to
learn English and the social, economic, and personal barriers to their
Part 3: "The sociolinguistic situation" contains twelve chapters, more
than the first two parts, and offers glimpses into many areas of language
in the USA.
In Chapter 15 (289-304): "Language ideology and language prejudice,"
Rosina Lippi-Green shares examples of the damaging consequences of
language prejudices and the linguistic myths that function as their
justification. To do so, she discusses the concept of "standard language
ideology," and describes her language subordination model, through which
speakers of stigmatized language varieties are indoctrinated into standard
In Chapter 16 (305-318), entitled "Ebonics and its controversy," John
Baugh examines the history of and topics raised by the 1996 resolution of
the Oakland, California, School Board regarding Ebonics. Baugh offers
information regarding the oft-ignored complexity of Ebonics history,
definitions, and debates, as well as presenting the original and amended
Oakland declarations, the Linguistic Society of America Resolution
(largely authored by John Rickford), and other public and scholarly
reactions to Ebonics.
Terrence G. Wiley, in Chapter 17 (319-338): "Language planning, language
policy, and the English-Only Movement," offers an in-depth look at USA
language policies. He gives an explanatory history of language planning
and policy decisions and the principles on which they are based, focusing
on the USA and its monolingual English ideologies. Discussion is also
given of the current English-Only Movement, including Propositions 227 and
203 in California and Arizona, as well as of the English-Plus Movement,
which has arisen in response to monolingual English ideologies.
In Chapter 18 (339-361), "Language in education," Lily Wong Fillmore
continues to address issues covered by Wiley but with a focus on bilingual
education. The author addresses the linguistic conflicts that exist in
American schools and communities, including legal decisions that have
affected school language use. Particular attention is paid to the changes
in the status of bilingual education, common arguments against it, and
substantiated refutations to them.
Chapter 19 (361-374), "Adolescent language," by Penelope Eckert, examines
the adolescent life stage, including its origins in industrialized
societies, its characteristics, and its effects on language use. The
author notes that adolescent language is often thought of as homogeneously
careless and casual although it does have systematicity and variation.
Chapter 20 (375-386), "Slang," by Connie Eble details the ways in which
slang is formed, often through the appropriation of existing linguistic
forms, and demonstrates how slang differs from regionalisms, jargon,
profanity, and colloquialisms. Common characteristics of slang are
discussed, such as a short life span, informality, association with
particular social groups, and connections to contemporary cultural trends,
and its use as a means to project attitudes and identity.
In Chapter 21 (387-409), "Hip Hop Nation Language," H. Samy Alim
addresses the linguistic and cultural features of the Hip Hop Nation
Language (HHNL), including its roots in and relationship to African
American English and its inherent connection to speakers' social and
political contexts. Its discursive, musical, and literary characteristics
are discussed, as are its internal diversity and geographic spread.
In Chapter 22 (410-429), Mary Bucholtz examines, "Language, gender, and
sexuality," focusing on the historical trends in their study and the
conceptual revolution reflected therein. Bucholtz discusses debates over
sexism in English, the 'difference' versus 'dominance' theories of
gendered cultures, the growth of studies regarding multicultural speech
communities, and the trends of study examining the relationship between
language and sexuality. Bucholtz also addresses new research efforts in
language, gender, and sexuality studies which focus on agency.
In Chapter 23 (430-444), "Linguistic identity and community in American
literature," James Peterson asks how readers determine the characteristics
of literary characters and addresses the role of the author's personal
experiences in successful character creation. The chapter examines the
analysis of literary character creation in various texts by Native
American, Latino/Latina, and African American authors.
Chapter 24 (445-462), by Cynthia Hagstrom, entitled "The language of
doctors and patients," discusses various approaches to medical
communication study and the linguistic characteristics of the medical
encounter. Hagstrom explains a methodological focus on linguistic details
through examples of open-ended and closed-ended questions, turn-taking,
and patient-centered and doctor-centered speech.
In Chapter 25 (463-479), "The language of cyberspace," Denise E. Murray
explores the advent of computer-mediated communication (CMC), examining
CMC as new language use, metaphors for new technology, and English's role
in CMC. The chapter offers discussion of technology access issues, CMC
word formation, and issues related to categorizing CMC within established
paradigms for discussing language use.
"Language in the USA" closes with Chapter 26 (481-492), "Language
attitudes to speech," by Dennis Preston, which discusses the systematic
study of linguistic value judgments and the methodological questions that
face language attitude researchers. The author demonstrates how
geographical dialect boundary judgments and attitudinal characteristics
(personality traits) of speakers can be collected and studied and offers
selected findings related to USA English (particularly that the South and
New York City are perceived as least correct). Preston concludes with
several speakers' overt statements regarding language varieties in the
USA, noting their value in the study of language attitudes.
"Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century" is an excellent
resource for persons interested in linguistic issues in the USA. My
immediate reaction to its announcement was excitement over the editors,
the list of contributors, and the vast range of topics covered. Whereas
more discussion could not be offered for economy of publishing reasons,
the brevity of the chapters does make them more accessible to college
students. While if longer the text could include greater depth of
discussion from these and other scholars, the recommended readings given
at the end of each chapter offer this opportunity to readers.
Some features could have been added to make this text more easily usable
in the classroom and more accessible to linguistics novices. A glossary of
linguistic terminology would be useful; while many authors (e.g. Wiley,
Hagstrom) offer definitions to important terms, the inclusion of
definitions for all linguistic terminology used would facilitate ease of
readability. Readers could also benefit from an explanation of the
International Phonetic Alphabet and other means used by scholars for
conveying pronunciation, perhaps through an appendix. In some chapters
(Yamamoto and Zepeda, for one), pronunciation guidance is offered in
footnotes. In others, the International Phonetic Alphabet is used in
conjunction with pronunciation-based respellings (Kretzschmar, Wolfram)
with varying degrees of explanation. A consistent method of conveying
pronunciation could aid in reader comprehension. Another useful tool would
have been discussion questions at each chapter's end. Although one could
certainly create some, their inclusion would have given each author the
opportunity to reinforce the ideas presented in each chapter and to
emphasize particularly important concepts.
This volume is well-edited with few (if any) typographical errors. The
articles are articulately written and, while each author's individual
style is maintained, the editors' introductions and the chapters'
arrangement give the volume continuity. In many cases, the authors are
faced with presenting complicated subject matter and intensely debated
topics with extreme length limitations and no presumed reader background
knowledge. In every case, this is done well; in many, spectacularly.
Collectively, the book leaves one with the impression that there is much
more to be studied and discussed regarding language use in the USA. It
also serves to make readers aware of the many linguistic issues that have
ramifications in their daily lives and may serve as an impetus for them to
appreciate linguistic diversity and, through it, cultural democracy.
Ferguson, Charles A. and Shirley Brice Heath, eds. 1981. "Language in the
USA." New York: Cambridge University Press.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Rachel E. Shuttlesworth is a Council on Library and Information Resources
Post-Doctoral Fellow in Scholarly Information Resources for Humanists at
the University of Alabama Libraries. She holds a doctorate in English
Applied Linguistics and received her Masters in Spanish Applied
Linguistics. Dr. Shuttlesworth's research interests include language
ideology, Southern American English, Papiamentu, and others. She has
taught introductory linguistics, TESOL and applied linguistics, and
Spanish and is now working on a project to make Southern English resources
available through an online data repository and collaborative analysis