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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AUTHOR: Joan C. Beal TITLE: An Introduction to Regional Englishes SERIES TITLE: Edinburgh Textbooks on the English Language PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press YEAR: 2010
Simone C. Bacchini, School of Languages, Linguistics, and Film, Queen Mary, University of London, London, United Kingdom
SUMMARY This is an introductory text on regional variation within England; it covers topics such as pronunciation, morphological, syntactic, and lexical variation as well as theoretical issues, such as variation and identity, levelling and diffusion. Although some of the topics are treated from a diachronic point of view, overall the topic of variation is looked at synchronically.
The volume, like other titles in the series, is aimed at undergraduates, as well as secondary school students taking classes on the English language, as well as, presumably, the interested general public. As such, its aim is to give an overview of the field informed both by past and current research.
Beal divides her book into five chapters plus an introduction. In the introduction, the author provides an overview not only of the work but also of the field of English dialectology; its origins, methods, directions, and scope. Even in this brief section, the freshness of Beal's approach is apparent. English dialects (and indeed the whole field of dialectology) are presented as an evolving reality. The author clearly communicates the usefulness of studying English dialects; her passion for the topic is clear but she successfully manages to share her knowledge and appreciation for dialects without fetishising them.
What becomes clear from Beal’s account is that, far from being moribund, English dialects are thriving, albeit in a state of constant flux. A point clearly made by the author (p.7) is that, in the twenty-first century, just as in the twentieth, the nineteenth, and even in earlier periods, dialects in England are not disappearing so much as changing, albeit perhaps more rapidly than ever before.
Chapters two to four introduce regional variation by addressing the areas of ''accent'' (chapter one), morphology and syntax (chapter two), and lexis (chapter three). Each of these chapters is comprehensive and, like the rest of the book, refers to older, ''classic'' research as well as more recent works, including Beal's own. This approach clearly shows the evolving state of dialectology and does not shy away from presenting controversial points, whilst keeping the discussion easy to follow and coherent.
EVALUATION This slender volume, part of the ''English Textbooks on the English Language'' series, is an excellent introduction to the field of English dialectology. Part of its appeal lies precisely in its compact size, coupled with clarity of presentation.
The book is geographically focused: it deals with language variation within England -- as opposed to the British Isles, the UK, or the much larger English-Speaking world. The author does refer to research conducted outside of England but only to shed more light on the topics she discusses. This approach makes the text theoretically sound and up to date, whilst keeping it coherent and easier to follow.
One minor problem with this otherwise excellently crafted small volume is that there appear to be inconsistencies in the transcription conventions (especially in chapters two and three). For example, on pp. 11-12, lists of regional variants are given, both square and forward slashes are used. This was probably missed during editing and, although not a major problem, it can engender confusion, especially in novice readers. In addition, this reviewer is of the opinion that, particularly in an introductory work, a brief section on the conventions of transcribing sound would be helpful, as would be a brief glossary of linguistic terms.
Another strength of Beal’s work is that, unlike other (especially introductory) works on language variation, the author manages to inform her reader not only about the ''whats'', but -- importantly -- also about the ''whys'' of variation. Her two final chapters (five and six) address the topics of ‘levelling’ and ‘diffusion’ as agents of change, and of the relationship between language and identity. Both chapters are very clearly written and as well as referring to older, established theories and research, they make use of more recent methodology (like Llamas's (1999, 2007, Llamas & Watt 2010) use of the identity questionnaire (IDQ)). This means that readers are better equipped to understand variation and to reflect on their own linguistic choices, as well as those of their communities, both locally and at the wider, national level.
Importantly, each chapter is concluded by a small number of appropriate exercises and suggested activities, as well as a selection of further readings, making the book very valuable for teaching and for independent study. Usefully, Beal refers the reader to online resources, such as the British Library's sound archive, which hosts recordings from the Survey of English Dialect (SED), recorded in the 1960s, and the Millennium Memory Bank, a set of oral history recordings made in 1999. Another useful and user-friendly research tool the author refers her reader to is the BBC's ''voices'' website. Given the widespread use and easy accessibility of the internet, the inclusion of such online databases will be appreciated by both instructors and students for the potential to help any interested party gain a better, first-hand understanding of the issues discussed.
Overall, Beal's book is a very welcome addition to the existing literature on English dialectology. It manages to be rigorous, engaging, and up to date whilst remaining user-friendly, not least because of its manageable size.
The two very minor flaws pointed out earlier (inconsistency of transcription and lack of a glossary) could easily be addressed in a future edition. However, they do not by any means detract from the quality of the book.
Llamas, Carmen. 1999. A new methodology: data elicitation for social and regional variation studies. Leeds Working Papers in Phonetics and Linguistics. 7. 95-118.
Llamas, Carmen. 2007. A place between places: language identities in a border town. Language in Society. 36(4). 579-604.
Llamas Carmen and Watt, Dominic. (eds.). 2010. Language and Identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Simone C. Bacchini has recently completed a PhD on the linguistic encoding
of the experience of physical pain and chronic illnesses by a group of
Italian speakers. His research interests are ub sociolinguistics, language
change and variation, discourse analysis and functional approaches to
language, especially Systemic Functional Grammar. Because of the topic of
his doctoral research, he has developed a particular interest in the
language of medicine and medical encounters. He is currently working as a
social sciences curator and content specialist at the British Library, London.