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Review of  Varieties of English in Writing

Reviewer: Robert Arthur Cote
Book Title: Varieties of English in Writing
Book Author: Raymond Hickey
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Ling & Literature
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 22.2544

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EDITOR: Hickey, Raymond
TITLE: Varieties of English in Writing
SUBTITLE: The written word as linguistic evidence
SERIES TITLE: Varieties of English Around the World G41
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2010

Robert A. Cote, Sharjah Women's College, United Arab Emirates


The editor, Raymond Hickey, begins the introductory chapter, ''Linguistic
evaluation of earlier texts,'' by describing the early notions of the dichotomy
of English along numerous parameters: urban versus rural, national or
non-regional versus local, educated versus naive, etc., and how perceptions of
self and other in terms of spoken language affected the written word in various
eras. He points out that that the earlier in time a text was produced, the less
reliable it is, stating that non-standard texts often contain ''data which were
never intended to be a source of the language it contains and is often
fragmentary and incomplete'' (p. 7). To counteract the effects of possibly
unreliable data, Hickey uses numerous resources including cross-textual
comparisons, a thorough set of classification criteria including degree of
vernacularity and text-internal scope, the author's relationship (insider,
intermediate or outsider) and degree of distance (intrinsic or extrinsic) to the
language, approaches to the language and content of the text and the
chronological perspective, defined as ''a distance between the time at which some
piece is composed and that which it attempts to represent'' (pp. 8-10). This set
of parameters lays the foundation for the analysis of the writings explored in
all subsequent chapters.

In Chapter 2, ''Non-standard language in earlier English,'' Claudia Claridge and
Merja Kytö introduce the labeling of language as standard or non-standard based
on the speaker's education, prestige and situational appropriateness (see
Campbell, 1776). They continue by describing aspects of language that could be
potential indicators of non-standard, among them regional restrictions, jargon,
speaker's level of education, emotive or archaic uses, outdated terminology
and/or use in unusual or inappropriate contexts (pp. 18-9). They provide
interesting grammatical examples of 18th century non-standard forms including
deviant subject-verb concord, double negation, incorrect article usage,
irregular word segmentation and others (p. 28) from various corpus sources,
including personal letters, court documents and literary works. Claridge and
Kytö close with cautionary statements regarding the size, availability and
reliability of corpora when doing such studies.

Philip Durkin, in Chapter 3, ''Assessing non-standard writing in lexicography,''
focuses on the spelling nuances of two very different pieces of writing: John
Clare's prose ''The Farmer and the Vicar'' and four of Lewis and Clark's
exploration journal entries. In the former, examples of irregular spellings fall
into two camps: those prevalent in other sources of the time or remaining from
earlier periods of writing, and those that the authors labeled as nothing more
than ''idiosyncratic but uninformative spellings by a naive writer'' (p. 50).
Interestingly, the authors comment that nearly all of the marked spellings in
the text are found on 21st century web pages. The American journal entries
portray non-standard spellings as a result of the writer's educational level. In
both cases, more analysis of the data is warranted and cross-referencing to
other texts from the time could provide deeper explanations to the writers'
spelling choices.

In Chapter 4, ''Northern English in writing,'' Katie Wales presents a plethora of
sources as evidence of the importance of Northern English (NE) writing due to
its seminal role in ''the emergence of urban dialects as a consequence of the
Industrial Revolution'' (p. 62). Wales identifies the challenges of data
limitations and reliability as well as the effects of resilience and
recesssiveness. The chapter focuses on the historical development of NE,
offering numerous detailed examples before exploring NE phonology, syntax, lexis
and discourse in a well-researched approach.

In contrast to the previous chapter, chapter 5, ''Southern English in writing'' by
Gunnel Melchers, explores Southern English writing, which he professes is not as
well-defined as NE. He offers a brief overview of relevant spoken and written
dialectal variations and their interrelatedness, a good portion of which will be
of particular interest to phonologists. Melchers concludes with a short
explanation of the importance of genre, motivation and awareness and their
effects on how present-day researchers perceive and interpret written
representations of accents and dialects from the past (p. 95).

J. Derrick McClure, in Chapter 6, ''The distinctiveness of Scots: Perceptions and
reality,'' deviates slightly from the previous chapters as he introduces the
possibility of a bilingual situation in Scotland in which the spoken language of
Edinburgh was at the opposite end of a continuum from the spoken English of
London. However, their written forms were nearly one and the same, rooted in
London English due to political and educational reasons and the invention of the
printing press, resulting in somewhat of a diglossic state of affairs (see
Ferguson, 1959; Haeri, 2000). McClure explores the regional pride of the Scots
as a barrier against Anglicisation, which weakened gradually over time. The
chapter contains difficult to read transcripts from plays, literature and poetry
that portray the unique speech of Scotsmen, which is described as more melodious
than London English, common and vulgar yet ''an integral part of the nation's
cultural identity as perceived by itself and others'' (p. 119).

In Chapter 7, Irish English in early modern drama: The birth of a linguistic
stereotype,'' Raymond Hickey takes us through an analysis of more than 200 years
of Irish English (IE) as it was perceived by authors and audiences via the
portrayal of Irish characters in comedic and satirical stage plays. He cautions
that the authenticity of the interpretation of spoken IE depends on the writer's
proximity to IE as either a native or non-native speaker. Hickey presents
numerous phonetic analyses of the linguistic features of various ''stage''
characters and summarizes his findings in well-organized tables. However, he
only includes the original text for half of the examples he bases his data on,
leaving the reader somewhat longing for more. Having more than just a novice
level of IPA is crucial for this chapter.

Chapter 8, ''[H]ushed and lulled full chimes for pushed and pulled: Writing
Ulster English'' by Kevin McCafferty, focuses on the emergence and development of
Ulster English (UlstEng) through an examination of various texts with the goal
of utilizing ''a corpus of texts from Ireland that will permit comparative
diachronic study of UlstEng and other Irish varieties'' (p. 141). McCafferty
introduces the reader to the five categories of text type, defined by Schneider
(2002), based on their proximity to speech: recorded, recalled, imagined,
observed and invented which are utilized to classify data from travelers,
surveyors and commentators found in personal letters and literary texts. The
author cautions that the data presented has some major limitations including
''small number of linguistic features ... small data bases ... small quantities
of data ... limited to particular periods, places and/or writers'' (pp. 145-6).
The author also offers a look at the writings of William Carleton and Patrick
MacGill not only to document vernacular features of their respective times, but
also to explore the roles they may play in present-day usage (p. 149).

Lisa Cohen Minnick, in Chapter 9, ''Dialect literature and English in the USA:
Standardization and national linguistic identity,'' brings the book back to the
Americas with an analysis of the portrayal of race, gender and socio-economic
status in 19th century texts. She begins with lengthy but interesting political
background on the language policies and planning that promoted the development
and spread of American colonial English. The chapter is notable for its
sociolinguistic focus, in particular early U.S. language attitudes, their role
in constructing and promoting national identity, and the linguistic perceptions
of self and other, including the speech of African-Americans and frontiersmen of
the Old Southwest. Towards the end of the chapter, Minnick offers some analysis
and her interpretation of Twain's depiction of white speakers' English versus
African-American English, the perceptions of language standards and local
dialects and the roles each plays in social organization.

Chapter 10, ''Written sources for Canadian English: Phonetic reconstruction and
the low-back vowel merger,'' by Stefan Dollinger, concentrates ''on the historical
development of the low-back vowel merger'' (p. 197) in Canada through both
literary and non-literary text types. He alerts the reader to be cautious of the
filter removal effect, in which an author's own dialectal background influences
the way s/he records the marked aspects of their own language. In other words, a
native speaker of a language is the best author due to familiarity, but at the
same time, s/he may not notice dialect differences because of this closeness
(see Ives, 1971). Dollinger presents the reader with several linguistic maps and
tables of spelling variants, which represent vowel shifts.

In Chapter 11, ''Earlier Caribbean English and Creole in writing,'' Bettina Migge
and Susanne Mühleisen depart from the main focus of the book with an analysis of
Caribbean Creoles, in particular those of Dutch origin. Information is presented
in somewhat of a disorganized manner, with references to different geographical
areas, including outside the Caribbean, and Creoles based on languages other
than English. There is a valuable section that maps Schneider's (2002) five
categories of text to data from the period, and the authors also caution the
reader of the challenges that may be encountered when encoding language
materials. These include the distances between spoken and written language,
target language competence of the writer, variation in orthography and lack of
transcription skills (p. 229-30). The authors also provide a list of sources
that examine the grammatical areas that have been investigated in Caribbean
historical documents written in Creole whose focus was ''identifying the
linguistic properties of earlier varieties, their etymological origin and their
diachronic development'' (p. 231). After extensive description of Dutch-based
Creoles, it is surprising to read a sample analysis based on Jamaican Creole.
Overall, this chapter leaves the reader somewhat confused.

Daniel Schreier and Laura Wright, in Chapter 12, ''Earliest St Helenian English
in writing: Evidence from the St Helena Consultations (1682-1723)'' introduce the
reader to the unique English of St. Helena Island. This is one of the best
chapters in terms of organization, starting with a historical background, then
extensive courtroom testimonies circa 1800 -- a rare corpus of great value to
forensic linguists, and concluding with sociolinguistic interpretations. In a
concise manner, the authors show St. Helena English (StHE) to be the result of
years of multidialectal and multilingual contact in which English was the
dominant lingua franca, but more than a dozen other languages played important
roles to the extent that StHE contained features typical of pidgins and creoles,
some of which continue today.

In Chapter 13, ''An abundant harvest to the philologer? Jeremiah Goldswain,
Thomas Stone and nineteenth-century South African English,'' Lucia Siebers
explores 1820's South African settlers' English vernacular from two sources,
Thomas Shone's journal and Jeremiah Goldswain's Chronicle, the latter first
studied in detail more than 50 years ago (see Casson, 1955). The chapter
describes the history of the language, including its rapid homogenization from
more than 30 regional and social British dialects in one generation (see Lanham,
1978) caused by a homogenous population and ''accommodation towards the speech of
the few but influential middle-class speakers'' (p. 291). Though the texts are
described as being written by semi-literates, their value should not be
under-estimated. The author cites Garcia-Bermejo Giner & Montgomery (1997) who
identified valuable attributes of writings from under-educated authors,
including providing ''important data for the study of non-standard input'' and
''insights into some of the phonological and grammatical structures ... to study
regional and social variation'' (p. 264). Siebers also alerts the reader to
beware of editors normalizing original documents in order to standardize them, a
practice which can damage the data's authenticity. Schneider's (2002) work is
referred to once again in this chapter before the two sources are revealed.
Siebers then explains phonological features such as H-dropping and H-insertion
and grammatical ones like the uses of done, was and were. The chapter closes
with the note that none of the 1820's non-standard features examined exist today.

Chapter 14, ''A peculiar language: Linguistic evidence for early Australian
English,'' by Kate Burridge, presents a plethora of samples of Australian English
(AusE) as described by Charles Adam Corbyn, who kept a verbatim record of street
and court dialogues in 1850's Sydney. The chapter explains the development of
AusE from its beginnings as the language of Great Britain's exiled criminal
population into what Hickey (2003) labels a supra-regional variety, accomplished
via a three-stage transformation process (see Trudgill, 2004). Burridge also
mentions that AusE is the first variety for which voice recordings are available
(see Felicity Cox's Ancestors Project
The majority of the chapter offers extensive samples of the different dialects
present in Sydney at the time: Irish, Scottish, London English and unknown
sources for which various non-standard linguistic features are listed, including
phonology, grammar, discourse and lexicon. Burridge further offers examples of
marked speech based on the age group of the speakers, and all of the original
texts from which the samples were taken are provided in an appendix. The author
advises that Corbyn's records may have exaggerated markedness for comedic
purposes, used marked features that may have been receding or already
disappeared from use and seems to completely disregard the occurrence of
G-dropping, R-dropping and TH-fronting, all of which were prevalent at that time
in the speech of Irish speakers elsewhere in the world at that time.

In the book's final chapter, ''Describing and complaining: Written evidence of
early New Zealand English pronunciation,'' Elizabeth Gordon examines New Zealand
English (NZEngl) by presenting two data sets: one collected by a self-trained
phonetician from Scotland, identified as a non-judgmental describer, and the
other from British school inspectors, labeled as complainers, who were annoyed
with the ''colonial twang'' that they heard. The material is quite different from
other chapters in several ways. There are numerous samples of the speech of
school age youth, divided by gender, that occurred in the classroom
(prescriptive) or playground (descriptive) as well as teacher speech, which
deviated from the expected British standard. Gordon also mentions some
methodological challenges that cause some of the data to appear contradictory.
In all cases, however, there was evidence of consonant changes, vowel shifts and
reduction, as well as H-dropping. One noteworthy fact is that Gordon (1998) was
able to compare all of the written records with voice recordings from the 1940's
of the first generation children born in New Zealand, which clearly supported
the written data.


Hickey's introduction sets the foundation for the book as an attempt ''to
consider the records for varieties of English which lie outside the mainstream
of what was later to become standard British English and to consider to what
extent such records ... are useful in determining the development and form of
these varieties'' (p. 1). This is accomplished throughout via in-depth analyses
by various authors on lexical, orthographical and phonological levels of
authentic written English texts including fiction, plays, personal letters,
journal entries and court documents. The samples were produced between the
early-16th and early-20th centuries in both Great Britain and her former
colonies with the goal of determining the level of standardization found in
each. In most cases, the reader is provided clear and well-researched
explanations of the markedness of a particular text with respect to its
conformity to the acceptable standards of writing for the time period in which
it was created as indicated by various reputable resources, such as the Corpus
of English Dialogues 1560-1760 (CED), the English Dialect Dictionary (EDD) or
the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in the earlier years and observation
journals, literary journals and even audio recordings for the later time periods
in Australia and New Zealand.

The fifteen chapters are divided into three broad geographical categories that
could have been separated into distinct sections: The United Kingdom (2-8), The
Americas (9-11) and Australia-New Zealand (14, 15). Additionally, two chapters
cover very specific locations, St. Helena Island (12) and South Africa (13).
Because of this, the text is most suited to an academic audience interested
primarily in the spoken linguistic history of these locations, especially Great
Britain, as portrayed in writing.

Some chapters (Gordon; Minnick) are quite suitable for the non-academic reader,
while others (Claridge & Kytö; McClure) require the reader to be familiar with
the styles of English being presented in order for the content to be fully
accessible. In McClure's chapter on Scots, translations into 21st century
English would have been helpful, for many of the sample texts were impossible to
make sense of in their original forms. In many chapters (Wales; Hickey;
Burridge; Gordon), a working knowledge of phonetics and IPA is necessary for the
reader to get the most from the text, while Schreier & Wright's chapter requires
some familiarity with English syntax. Migge and Mühleisen's chapter, though
informative, seems out of place with the rest of the book because of its
concentration on Dutch-Creoles as opposed to English ones.

In summary, Hickey's collection of articles offers many rare samples of
authentic writing based on numerous varieties of spoken English from various
historical sources, resulting in informative and appealing reading on an area of
historic English speech-based writing that is well-worth exploring by today's


Campbell, Hugh. 1776. The Philosophy of Rhetoric. London.

Casson, Leslie F. 1955. 'The Dialect of Jeremiah Goldswain, Albany Settler'.
(UCT Lecture Series No. 7). Cape Town: University of Cape Town.

Ferguson, Charles A. 1959. 'Diglossia'. Word 15, 325-340.

Gordon, Elizabeth. 1998. 'The Origins of New Zealand Speech: The limits of
recovering historical information from written records', English World Wide 19,
pp. 61-85.

Garcia-Bermejo Giner, Maria F. & Michael Montgomery 1997. 'British regional
English in the nineteenth century: the evidence from emigrant letters' in: Alan
Thomas (ed.), Issues and Methods in Dialectology. Bangor. University of North
Wales Press, pp. 167-83.

Haeri, Niloofar. 2000. 'Form and ideology: Arabic sociolinguistics and beyond'.
Annual Review of Anthropology, 29, 61-87.

Hickey, Raymond 2003. 'How do dialects get the features they have? On the
process of new dialect formation', in Raymond Hickey (ed.), Motives for language
change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 213-239.

Ives, Sumner. 1971. 'A theory of literary dialect' in: Juanita V. Williamson &
Virginia M. Burke (eds.). A Various Language: Perspectives on American Dialects,
145-177. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston [revised version of 1950 article].

Lanham, Len 1978. 'An outline history of the languages of southern Africa', in:
Len Lanham & Carol Prinsloo (eds.), Language and Communication Studies in South
Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, pp. 13-28.

Schneider, Edgar 2002. 'Investigating variation and change in written documents'
in: J.K. Chambers, Peter Trudgill & Natalie Schilling-Estes (eds.), The handbook
of language variation and change. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, pp. 67-96.

Trudgill, Peter 2004. 'New-Dialect Formation: The Inevitability of Colonial
Englishes'. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robert Cote received his master's degree in TESOL from Florida International University and is currently writing his dissertation in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona. He has taught in public high schools and community colleges in the US, served as Director of EFL at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain, and is currently the Chair of English at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. His interests include heritage language learning, Generation 1.5 students and their use of language to negotiate identity, peer collaboration, IEP writing, CALL and ESL/EFL Teacher Training.