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Review of  History of English

Reviewer: Jacob Thaisen
Book Title: History of English
Book Author: Dan McIntyre
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 20.1931

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AUTHOR: McIntyre, Dan
TITLE: History of English
SUBTITLE: A resource book for students
SERIES: Routledge English Language Introductions
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2009

Jacob Thaisen, School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland

The past decade has seen an increase in the number of new publications on the
history of the English language, including teaching materials. The addition to
the book which is under review here, McIntyre's first publication in the field,
draws on advances in textbook design during the same period to enhance learning
for the beginner undergraduate student. The volume seeks to ''provide a basic
introduction to the main themes and events of both the external and internal
history [of the language]'' (p. v) and is therefore ''necessarily selective'' (p.
v) in its coverage with elements discussed ''in a simplified form'' (p. v). This
is according to the foreword, as the back cover, in contrast, describes the
content as being ''comprehensive''. The themes and events selected as
characteristic of each chronological period are illuminated from four different
perspectives in conformity with other volumes in the Routledge English Language
Introductions series. In the present context, these are external history
(section A), internal history (section B), theory and practice (section C), and
key readings (section D). This arrangement gives a two-dimensional structure,
since it permits reading to proceed section by section or period by period.

Written in accessible language interspersed with informal remarks, section A
specifically skips through a selection of the external events that have
influenced the development of the language. After a sketch of events such as the
respective arrivals of the Anglo-Saxons, St Augustine, the Vikings, and William
the Conqueror, the spotlight shifts to the reintroduction of English, the
consequences of Bible translation, and the impact of the printing press. The
account then fast-forwards to Johnson's Dictionary in little more than a single
page before leaving England behind with a chapter on the spread of the language
to foreign shores. The next chapter lands the reader back on the island with its
five focal points of the Industrial Revolution, the Oxford English Dictionary,
Received Pronunciation, the two world wars, and communication technology, only
for the scope to broaden again in this section's final chapter, this time to
describe the global role of English in specific domains. This pattern of a
loosely connected series of snapshots focused only initially on England itself
is paralleled in section B. Five chapters outlining aspects of the phonology,
orthography, vocabulary, and inflectional morphology of Old, Middle, and Early
Modern English are followed by three chapters addressing features of the brands
of English spoken in North America, Australia, and India, of pidgins and
creoles, and of ''global'' English.

Where the only aspects of Early Modern English grammar described in section B
are personal pronouns and verbal inflections, selectivity also characterizes
section C, a catalogue of short self-contained exercises each typically preceded
by an introduction giving useful theoretical background to the issue at hand and
each followed by a commentary on, often even solution to, the tasks set. This
theory spans wide, for it not only comprises extended definitions of essential
terms such as ''phoneme'' or ''grammatical subject'', but also as-needed tracing of
the fundamentals of various disciplines; for example, Labov's classic fieldwork
in New York City and Trudgill's in Norwich are cited to place a recurrent
emphasis on contact and social motivation as drivers of linguistic change.
Specifically, chapters C1-C3 address language family trees, the pronunciation of
Old English, the notion of morphological case, Old English dialectal differences
illustrated by reference to localized versions of the Lord's Prayer, Old English
onomastics, and Norse, French, and Latin loanwords in Middle English; in
addition, they exemplify the latter of these stages in the chronological
development of the language by means of a 12-line extract from Chaucer's
''Canterbury Tales'' and yet another version of the Lord's Prayer. Early Modern
English is the focus of chapters C4 and C5, with the dictionaries of Cawdrey
(1604) and Price (1668) selected as illustrative of the codification process but
a call for the policing of grammar made in a 2007 letter to the editor of ''The
Observer'' newspaper serving the same function relative to prescriptivism.
Socially marked variation between ''thou'' and ''you'', double marking of adjectival
grade, and the use of ''do'' in affirmative contexts are the specific points of
difference from present-day English sketched out next. Apart from a single
exercise on the mechanisms of word formation in chapter C7, all the remaining
exercises again relate to other varieties of the language than those found in
England: the semantic fields of words borrowed by early settlers in North
America, Webster's orthographic reform, the pidgin characteristics of the
English of eighteenth-century African slaves and of Tok Pisin, the uniqueness of
the lexicon of Australian English, the potentially damaging effects of the
global spread of English, and the likely course of the language's future

As can be seen, it is not only the arrangement of the materials that is
innovative for a publication on the history of the language but also both the
intentional coverage of selected themes and events only and the balance between
England-based and non-England-based varieties existing at various points in the
temporal development of the language, including the present day. While
period-by-period reading generates the impression of a more traditionally
structured volume, the main innovations, in terms of textbook design, are the
significant proportion of space allotted to the exercises—one quarter or some 40
pages—and the inclusion of selections from the suggested further reading within
the volume itself. As with other volumes in this Routledge series, the readings
that constitute section D are a collection of lengthy extracts from previously
published materials written by other scholars; chapter D4.2, for example,
reproduces the discussion of chain shifts from Aitchison (2001), another
textbook targeted at much the same audience. A selective glossary of basic
linguistic terms, recommendations for still further reading, a list of
references, and an index complete the volume, which thus provides the instructor
of a course with a full set of teaching materials within a single set of covers.

The book comes with a supporting website hosted by Routledge
( Date of access: 22 December
2008). The information available on this site is, however, less comprehensive
than that offered by the websites supporting competing textbooks covering
similar ground, notably Van Gelderen (2006) (
Date of access: 22 December 2008). Apart from a title page and marketing
materials of the type most publishing houses offer in their online catalogues,
the website contains little more than ten sample essay questions and a modest
collection of links to dictionaries and other resources available elsewhere on
the internet. Two references to the site are found within the book itself, one
on the back cover that also gives its address and another on the title page.
Being virtually identical, both list the site among the fortes of the volume.

The selectiveness characteristic of the volume with its innovative division of
materials is pedagogically successful. It translates into self-contained,
focused units which lessons can be based on and which the target readership can
embrace, whereas the more inclusive content of certain traditional textbooks
sometimes gives them an encyclopedic flavor and a less clear focus. The wealth
of exercises stimulate active learning and critical appreciation, although the
separation of the individual exercise from the commentary that immediately
follows might have enhanced these aspects further, since the commentaries
effectively constitute an answer key. The layout, typesetting, and colloquial
register will also appeal to the learner, as will the many supporting examples
and illustrations. Students are, in other words, likely to find the publication

Instructors on the history of the English language may partially agree. They may
welcome the one-stop design, since it unites traditionally separate disciplines
of linguistics. Introductions to the history usually treat both the internal and
external developments more fully, but they rarely include the basic theory
across a range of disciplines that is necessary for explaining causality and
puzzling out the exercises, assuming it previously mastered. Instructors may
also receive the choice of themes and events favorably. In the face of the
necessary selectiveness, it adequately spans those traditionally regarded as the
principal ones, except perhaps for developments within the British Isles during
the period Beal calls ''Later Modern English'', which McIntyre treats in a
relatively cursory way.

While the target readership of both beginner students and their instructors may
thus respond enthusiastically to the design of the volume and the materials
selected for inclusion in it, they may, however, vary in their reception of its
representation of these materials. The reason for this possible hesitation is
that the pedagogically motivated simplification of them has unfortunately led to
the insidious appearance of occasional inaccuracies, although the extensive help
of several scholars is acknowledged (p. xiii). Standardly accepted to originate
from the Germanic second-person present indicative singular suffix, the ''-s''
found in the third-person singular in the verbal paradigm of present-day English
did not develop from ''-þ'' (p. 43), for example. Also, short and long
monophthongs are typologically unlikely to have coexisted with both short and
long diphthongs in Old English (p. 38), the weakening and subsequent loss of
morphological inflections hardly caused the synthetic-to-analytic shift as much
as they were symptomatic of it (p. 80), and since the letter ''yogh'' sometimes
signaled a velar stop or even a dental fricative, it was by no means always
pronounced [j] word-initially and [x] word-medially (p. 51).

Other inaccurate positions are either retracted immediately or in a subsequent
chapter. The assertion that the Early Modern English masculine singular
possessive pronoun ''his'' was often used in contexts where present-day English
would have the neuter pronoun ''its'' (p. 63) thus contrasts with the later
reminder that one should be careful never to confuse the neuter and masculine
pronouns with one another as they were once identical in form (p. 94). ''The fact
that some French speakers may... not have heard the inflections when listening
to Anglo-Saxon speakers meant that their own efforts at speaking and writing in
English would not necessarily have included these grammatical elements. Over
time, this was a contributory factor to the decline of an inflectional system in
English'', writes McIntyre (p. 13). Although cautious about implying
creolization, he adds that borrowing of French lexis ''further increased the
hybrid nature of English'' (p. 13), only in a subsequent chapter to note
conflictingly that the number of French speakers was too limited to make contact
a likely explanation for widespread inflectional change in English (p. 52).

Among further eyebrow-raising examples, the characterization of the Great Vowel
Shift as a push-chain triggered by raising of the most open front vowel (the one
in ''father'') comes with an acknowledgement that linguists disagree about the
causes and chronology of the individual movements (pp. 57-58), a disagreement
illustrated by the incorporated extract from Aitchison (2001), as the suggestion
is made there that the Shift perhaps began in the middle (p. 152). Lastly, it
may be questioned whether the process of standardization really had advanced
sufficiently far by Caxton's days for Chancery Standard to be available for
conscious adoption by the printer as a standard (p. 20), and it is unfortunate
that the inventory of pure vowels enumerated for present-day English is
non-identical between the schematic and tabular illustrations offered on p. 56
as far as the symbols used are concerned.

In conclusion, McIntyre's publication is to be recommended as a useful, modern
resource for the teaching of the beginner undergraduate audience it targets, for
it is certainly true that the volume is genuinely successful as an interactive
textbook in terms of its design. In opting to adopt it for this purpose,
however, the individual instructor will need to balance its rich pedagogy
against the poor level of precision that characterizes its depiction of the
selected themes and events.

Aitchison, Jean (2001). _Language Change: Progress or Decay?_ 3rd edition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Gelderen, Elly (2006). _A History of the English Language_. Amsterdam: John

Jacob Thaisen is Visiting Senior Lecturer in the School of English at Adam
Mickiewicz University, Poznań. He has research and teaching interests in the
history of the English language, manuscript studies, and humanities computing
and has published on the scribal tradition of Chaucer's ''Canterbury Tales''. He
is currently coordinating electronic work on all the manuscripts of the ''Man of
Law's Tale'' funded by a three-year project grant from the Polish Ministry of

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