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Review of  English in Modern Times

Reviewer: Meagan P. Storey
Book Title: English in Modern Times
Book Author: Joan C. Beal
Publisher: Hodder Education
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.1938

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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

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

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

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).


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.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0340761172
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 256pp
Prices: U.K. £ £16.99