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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Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 05:59:52 -0700 (PDT) From: Meagan Storey Subject: English in Modern Times
AUTHOR: Beal, Joan C. TITLE: English in Modern Times PUBLISHER: Hodder Arnold YEAR: 2004
Meagan Storey, unaffiliated scholar
Chapter 1, "Modern English and modern times," defines the period that will fall under discussion for the remainder of the book. Beal defines 'modern times' as 1700-1945, adding that other texts often refer to this span as Later Modern English. The chapter chiefly addresses the cultural changes which characterize this period in British history and how those changes affected the development of English. The principal language changes to transpire during this time were the rise of Received Pronunciation (RP) and urban dialects, the decline of rural dialects, the spread of English, and the resulting growth of national dialects.
Chapter 2, "The vocabulary of Later Modern English," begins with a reminder of the vast social, political, intellectual, and technological adaptations that British English speakers encountered between 1700 and 1945, as discussed in the previous chapter. Beal utilizes the growth of the lexicon in various figures and charts, integrating the sociolinguistic discussion with quantitative analyses. Beal notes that online access to 'The Oxford English Dictionary' has made it easier to analyze innovations in English, particularly those during the World Wars.
Chapter 3, "Recording and regulating the lexicon: dictionaries from Dr Johnson to the 'Oxford English Dictionary'," chronicles the history of lexicography, dispelling the "popular misconception" that there were no dictionaries before Johnson's in 1755. Beal explains that the demand for monolingual English dictionaries reflected the growing use of inkhorn words towards the end of the sixteenth century. She charts the progression of lexicography from a concern with Latinate vocabulary in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the more familiar treatments of dialects, slang, and etymologies with which modern dictionary readers are familiar. The details behind the motivations of the lexicographers and the examples used from the dictionaries of the times are enjoyable and often amusing for modern readers.
Chapter 4, "Syntactic change in Later Modern English," begins with a note that this area of study lacks a great deal of research. Beal then details innovations and regulations of various syntactic constructions. Innovations during this period include increasing rates in the usage of the 'be + -ing' form of verbs (i.e. the progressive) and 'group-verbs', including phrasal, prepositional, and phrasal-prepositional verbs. Beal also notes the decline of the subjunctive and the regulation of second person pronouns and the 'do' auxiliary. In her discussion of second person pronouns, she makes a nod to the United States by including a brief discussion of our southern 'you all' (more commonly written as 'y'all' by those of us who use this variation) and the 'yins' feature found in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As with her previous chapters, Beal's sociolinguistic approach and literary examples make for interesting reading. Her inclusion of methodology also adds to the narrative.
Chapter 5, "Grammars and grammarians," presents evidence for and a discussion of how the idea of grammar changed (and continues to change) during the early modern period of English. The connection between language and culture is quite (though not exclusively) relevant in this chapter, as Beal points to the relation of grammatical prescriptions and political ideologies in Britain. The author is careful not to demonize past grammarians as wholly committed to prescription and proscription, though, as the question of who creates grammatical 'rules' continues to be of valuable consideration.
Chapter 6, "Phonological change in Later Modern English," like Chapter 4, starts with the observation that there had been little study of phonological change in this period of the English language. Beal clarifies, though, that this is not for lack of viable changes worthy of study. The chapter then commences with a discussion of the materials which can be used to study these changes. In particular, Beal shows the value of pronouncing dictionaries as research tools, at least in regard to the study of changes in Received Pronunciation (RP). Beal places her primary focus on the phonological changes in RP (and what she terms 'proto-RP'), with attention to other varieties. The chapter covers prominent features such as the increase in unstressed vowels, rhoticity (intrusive /r/ and weakening /r/), and h- dropping. Beal's discussion includes analyses of the innovations, stigmatizations, and variations of such features.
Chapter 7, "Defining the standard of pronunciation: pronouncing dictionaries and the rise of RP," provides a fitting extension of the previous chapter. Here, Beal attends more so to the sociolinguistic aspects of phonological change during Later Modern English. She notes the correlating value placed on certain varieties with the rise of a middle class. Her examples draw not only from obvious prescriptive texts like pronouncing dictionaries, but also from the literature of the time. Continuing to focus on RP, Beal traces this variety's first usages and origins of its definition.
Chapter 8, "Beyond Standard English: varieties of English in the later modern period," brings the discussion to varieties of British English beyond Received Pronunciation. Beal ends the chapter with "an apology" to other varieties, acknowledging the lack of coverage in her text and calling for more research. She then briefly addresses varieties extending from the United States and Canada to Australia and South Africa.
As with similar books in which the development of the English language is tied to socio-historical changes, Beal's text offers those of us disinterested in the emphasis on warmongering that makes many history courses difficult to bear a pleasant introduction to British history. As an educational resource, "English in Modern Times" would work well as a textbook or with its chapters divided and used individually. Its value extends beyond courses on the history of the English language. Students, instructors, and scholars of phonology, syntax, semantics, lexicography, British literature, and British history would all find worthwhile supplementary material for their studies within this book.
Mostly, I appreciated Beal's copious examples. At times, though, I found them distracting because I am unfamiliar with some of the literary references. This is not to say her examples detract from the text, but only to note that readers without a general background in British literature may not connect as readily with these passages. I feel the same ambivalence towards her use of figures and charts in Chapter 2. The numerical representations will be seen by some as an easy way to quantify lexical innovation in British English. But, to others, the discussions of the data may seem cumbersome. The redemption of these discussions, for me, is Beal's offer of her methodology and her appeal to readers to perform their own statistical calculations. Throughout the text, she weaves her methodology with theory and data, providing a richer text, and one that is suitable for pedagogical uses.
Though the back cover asserts the book "is essential reading for undergraduates and graduate students," I think it is more suitable for graduate students (and perhaps advanced undergraduates), at least in the U.S, because of the narrow focus on British English. This is not a criticism of Beal's coverage. At numerous points, she acknowledges this focus, apologizing for her lack of treatment of other varieties. My only criticism is actually that she makes too much of this issue. Her careful and respectful attitude towards other varieties of English needs no apology, and by the time I read the last chapter, I did not feel I needed another justification for her dearth of attention to my native variety (American English).
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Meagan Storey recently completed her M.A. in Applied Linguistics at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.A. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, gender and sexuality, and the discourse analysis of advice in popular media.