Review of The English Language
AUTHORS: Brinton, Laurel J. and Arnovick, Leslie K.
TITLE: The English Language
SUBTITLE: A Linguistic History, 2nd Edition
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
Daniela Cesiri, Department of Comparative Linguistic and Cultural Studies,
University of Venice “Ca’ Foscari”, Italy
The book under review is a new edition of a textbook meant for undergraduate
students (at any rate, students with no prior specific knowledge) in history of
English and English language and linguistics. The authors specify that the text
takes a North American perspective “especially in its discussion of the national
and regional varieties of English”.
Each chapter includes self-testing exercises with keys provided at the end of
the volume, which should help students ascertain individually whether they are
effectively learning the concepts provided in the textbook. In addition, the
books comes with a companion website which serves as an additional tool to both
students and lecturers. The website includes a 53-page file of self-testing
exercises in .pdf with keys in a separate file for individual study. Each
chapter is also accompanied by a final section with suggestions for further
reading and listening, as well as web links, and references to sound files on
the companion website. These files are readings of literary samples from the Old
English (OE) to the Early Modern English (EModE) periods which aim to reproduce
the ‘original’ pronunciation of the relevant period.
The chapters are constructed to lead students (and instructors) into the history
of English and some of its varieties, starting from a general introduction to
theoretical and basic concepts in general linguistics, and finishing with a
description of national and regional varieties.
CHAPTER ONE (Studying the History of English) introduces basic concepts of
language, language change and attitudes towards the latter, as well as to the
reasons and resources available for the study of the History of English.
CHAPTER TWO (The Sounds and Writing of English) deals with a description of the
sounds of English, information on the IPA alphabet used to transcribe these
sounds and to the origins of writing in English and of writing in general.
CHAPTER THREE (Causes and Mechanisms of Language Change) explores the mechanisms
-- in the authors’ word -- of phonological, morphological, syntactic and
semantic change with a special reference to English in the context of change in
other Indo-European languages.
CHAPTER FOUR (The Indo-European Language Family and Proto-Indo-European)
introduces readers to the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European and to
linguistic classification generally, as well as to the description of West
Germanic, the immediate family of English.
CHAPTER FIVE (Germanic and the Development of Old English) describes the first
well-attested stage of English, the OE period (c. 449-1066). The authors provide
not only a description of the main linguistic changes in OE but also a
description of dialects and written records available for this period which
provide our evidence for this stage of English. In addition, the chapter gives
information on laws of language change, including philological studies as they
are generally used to explain changes from Proto-Indo-European to Germanic.
CHAPTERS SIX and SEVEN (The Words and Sounds of Old English and The Grammar of
Old English, respectively) describe the main lexical, phonological and syntactic
features of OE, with sample texts and analysis to allow students to relate
concepts in the chapters to original texts.
CHAPTERS EIGHT and NINE (The Rise of Middle English: Words and Sounds and The
Grammar of Middle English and Rise of a Written Standard) provide an account of
the subsequent period, Middle English (ME, 1066-c. 1500). This period sees the
influence of Norman French on English as the direct consequence of the Norman
Conquest by William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy) in 1066. ME texts are
provided with relevant analysis which accompanies the description of the main
linguistic features of ME. In addition, attention is brought to the fact that a
written standard emerges during the ME period with important consequences for
the future codification of the English language.
CHAPTERS TEN and ELEVEN (The Words, Sounds, and Inflections of Early Modern
English and Early Modern English Verbal Constructions and Eighteenth-Century
Prescriptivism) continue the overview by period, in this case EModE (c. 1500-c.
1700), including the 18th century prescriptivist movement, which is generally
inserted in the Late Modern English period (c. 1700-c. 1900) and deals with
issues on language usage. As in previous chapters, these describe the vocabulary
of English during the EModE period as well as its phonological and syntactic
features with the final sections of Chapter Eleven dedicated to the codification
of the language through the creation of grammars and dictionaries.
CHAPTER TWELVE (Modern English) deals with syntactic and semantic changes since
the end of EModE and the consequences for the language brought by the rise of
new media as well as contemporary changes.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN (Varieties of English) illustrates the development of national
and regional varieties with the case of North American English and Canadian
English compared to British English, only marginally treating other national
varieties of English such as Australian and New Zealand English, African English
and Caribbean English. The section on regional varieties dedicates some space to
dialects of English in the British Isles and a larger section to English in the
The textbook closes with APPENDIX A, a ‘Quick Reference Guide’ to linguistic
changes in the history of English with tables reproduced from the textbook but
grouped together in this section. APPENDIX B contains a ‘Timeline of Historical,
Literary and Linguistic Events in the History of English’. ‘Exercise Key’,
‘Glossary of Linguistic Terms’, and ‘References’ conclude the volume.
This book perfectly serves the audience it aims for. Indeed, it is written in
such a way that students with no prior knowledge of the subject or terminology
can approach the text even through individual study. The introduction to the
basic concepts on language change and relative terminology are useful in
gradually leading the student to a deeper understanding of English. In addition,
historical and social background provided in each chapter integrates and
contextualises the overview of linguistic features.
Also useful are the final sections of each chapter, providing reference to
material -- textual, audio-visual and references to online resources provide
consistent help to students who would like to learn more about the history of
English, the majority from Canada. Inclusion of media and online resources
available from other countries would improve knowledge of English as a global
phenomenon as it is pursued worldwide.
The annotated texts illustrating the main phases in the history of English are
well structured and integrate the theoretical explanation in a way that students
who study individually can find their way into the text.
Beside these very important merits, the book has some minor negative aspects
such as the chapters’ division for the different phases in the history of
English which does not appear balanced. For instance, the textbook dedicates
ample space to the OE period (despite some missing information on the Danelaw
and the latter’s influence on present-day English and regional varieties) but
less space to ME which is equally important in the development of present-day
English. Moreover, Late Modern English is not taken as a phase in the history of
English and the section dedicated to Modern English is very limited and less
detailed than the preceding periods. These points do not affect the quality of
the monograph but their absence is quite surprising in a work of this kind.
Finally, in Chapter Thirteen, the description of national varieties is centred
on North America and Canada (as the authors specify in the Preface). Less space
is dedicated to regional varieties in the British Isles; however, this textbook
describes English in Ireland with the term Hiberno-English, a term used less and
less in work on Irish English. Indeed, as Hickey (2007:5) states, “it is too
technical: the use of the term demands that it be explained in studies intended
for a general readership outside Ireland”. Academic research on English in
Ireland tends to use the more neutral term Irish English, which is
comprehensible to students with no prior knowledge of English dialectology and
On the whole, the contents are presented clearly and simply and the textbook
itself is an example of how to introduce (mainly undergraduate) students to the
study and research of the history and varieties of the English language.
Hickey, Raymond. 2007. Irish English. History and present-day forms. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Daniela Cesiri holds the position of Lecturer-Researcher on English
Language and Linguistics at the University of Venice “Ca’ Foscari” (Italy)
where she teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Her research
interests include the history of the English language (with particular
attention to the Late Modern English period), the historical development of
Irish English (especially during the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries), Corpus Linguistics applied to synchronic and diachronic
studies, as well as Applied Linguistics (especially English for Special
Purposes and English for Academic Purposes, both synchronically and