LINGUIST List 18.1619

Tue May 29 2007

Review: Sociolinguistics: Leech; Svartvik (2006)

Editor for this issue: Laura Buszard-Welcher <>

Directory         1.    Lane Gilmour, English-One Tongue, Many Voices

Message 1: English-One Tongue, Many Voices
Date: 29-May-2007
From: Lane Gilmour <>
Subject: English-One Tongue, Many Voices

Announced at AUTHORS: Svartvik, Jan; Leech, Geoffrey N.TITLE: English-One Tongue, Many VoicesPUBLISHER: Palgrave MacmillanYEAR: 2006

Kane Gilmour, United States English Language Fellow, Sri Lanka


This book claims quite simply to be ''for students and their teachers, andfor anyone who wants a broad and authoritative introduction to thephenomenon of English worldwide.'' The book is divided into three parts anda brief introductory chapter (Chapter 1 ''English-The Working Tongue of theGlobal Village'') which discusses the concept of varieties of English andintroduces Braj Kachru's Three Concentric Circles model (Kachru, 1985).

The first part, ''The History of an Island Language'', examines the historyof English from its origins to the present day and the chapters are dividedaccording to era of the language, Old English (Chapter 2 ''The First 500Years''), Middle English (Chapter 3 ''1066 and All That''), and Modern English(Chapter 4 ''Modern English in the Making'').

In Chapter 2 the authors begin with the Celtic tribes and the Roman periodwith discussions of word stock and the effects of Christianity on thelanguage. Next the Viking invasions are detailed followed by theobligatory mention of the epic poem Beowulf. The chapter includes sidebarson place names, King Alfred the Great, Norse loan words, and Old Englishnoun inflections.

Chapter 3 examines the Norman period, French loan words, grammaticalchanges to the language, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and the introductionof printing in England. The chapter is supplemented with plentifulexamples, translations, word lists, and sidebar discussions of Englishlegal vocabulary, animal terms, and placement of stress on French and Latinloan words.

Chapter 4 on Modern English focuses on Shakespeare, the King James Bible,and Samuel Johnson's dictionary. The chapter briefly covers some of thehistorical events of the time and further looks at the impact of Greek andLatin on English vocabulary. This chapter also introduces the dividebetween descriptivists and prescriptivists as the language began to becodified. Sidebars cover a diverse group of topics from a 1599 descriptionof the Globe Theater to a look at the Great Vowel Shift of the fifteenthcentury and from the spelling of Shakespeare's name to the riddles in DanBrown's ''The Da Vinci Code.''

The second part of the book, ''The Spread of English Around the World'',examines how the language was transported out of the British Isles (Chapter5 ''English Goes to the New World'' and Chapter 6 ''English Transplanted''),looks at varieties in the United Kingdom and Ireland (Chapter 7 ''EnglishVarieties in the British Isles''), discusses differences between BritishEnglish and American English (Chapter 8 ''American and British English''),and looks at English-based creoles (Chapter 9 ''From Caribbean English toCreole'').

In Chapter 5, the authors take the reader on a whirlwind tour of Americanand Canadian history from colonization into the early twentieth century,examining linguistic diversity along the way. Additional sidebars coverGuy Fawkes, the slave trade, loan words from Native American languages,American dialects, American terminology, Spanish and Yiddish in America,and Canadian minority languages.

Chapter 6 covers a lot of ground with a focus on Australia, New Zealand,and South Africa. Asia and the rest of Africa are also generally discussedas well. Sidebars tackle issues of Australian terminology, the ballad''Waltzing Matilda'', and an excerpt from Nelson Mandela's autobiography.

Chapter 7 looks at the Received Pronunciation (RP) accent, Estuary English,Cockney, and Northern and West Country accents. This is followed byspotlights on English in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Sidebars coverfeatures of RP, a model of standardization, Scottish terminology, the song''Auld Lang Syne'', an explanation of Limericks, and a brief rundown ofseveral Irish writers.

Chapter 8 examines differences and similarities between British English andAmerican English with plentiful examples. The chapter also discussesAfrican American Vernacular English. Sidebar topics include American andBritish spelling differences, rhoticity, a comparison of the speech styleof George Washington and George W. Bush, American and British grammaticaldifferences, the Linguistic Society of America's resolution on Ebonics, anda focus on minority populations in the United States.

Chapter 9, on creoles, defines pidgins and creoles, looks at the life cycleof creoles, compares Atlantic creole characteristics, and zeroes in onSranan, Jamaican creole, and Tok Pisin. Sidebars give examples of Jamaicancreole and Sranan.

The third part of the book, ''A Changing Language in Changing Times'',focuses on three difficult topics: language standards (Chapter 10 ''TheStandard Language Today''), language change (Chapter 11 ''Linguistics Changein Progress: Back to the Inner Circle''), and predictions for the future ofthe language (Chapter 12 ''English into the Future'').

Chapter 10 considers the written standard, vocabulary, a spectrum fromspeech to writing, and the grammaticality of spoken English. Sidebarscompare written Englishes from around the world, spoken versus writtenEnglish, and the vocabulary usage from the television series ''Yes, PrimeMinister.''

Chapter 11 delves into linguistic change processes such asgrammaticalization and colloquialization. The chapter tacklessociolinguistic issues such as gender and liberalization as well ascontemporary issues like electronic English. Sidebars examine writtenEnglish affected by speech styles, Western personal names, honorifics inEnglish, nicknames, and gender-neutral terminology.

Chapter 12 looks at diversification, globalization, English as a LinguaFranca, native speakers, shifts in England and America, the power ofEnglish on the world stage, and the view that China may be giving English arun for its money in the future. Sidebars are given to World SpokenStandard English, the profane language of young people in England, Londoncreole, and language mixing.

The book also includes a list of abbreviations, an extensive section ofnotes, references, an index divided into people and topics, and a guide topronunciation.


My initial impression upon finishing this book is that while it is the bestbook available for the issues covered, it tries too hard to be somethingfor everyone and as a result loses some of the impact it could have had.

In attempting to make the book accessible to students and lay-readers someareas end up with little mention or insufficient depth. At the same time,since this is also a book meant to be used as a text in (tertiary level)classrooms, the authors occasionally fall victim to assuming the reader isalready familiar with the topic. One example is the level of phonologicaldetail included in the book. The discussions of phonology would be lost onthe lay-reader and would be difficult at best for students with just oneIntroductory Phonetics course under their belts. So taken as anintroductory book on the subject, it is simply too complex. Taken as amore advanced text for graduate students, teachers, and scholars, thecontent is too broad. Any scholars familiar with the works of DavidCrystal (1988, 2003, 2004) and Tom McArthur (1998, 2003) will find littlenew material here. But what they will notice is that the authors have donean excellent job of combining a book about the history of the language withone which examines the current standing of English as a global language.Which, as mentioned above, is both a good thing and a bad thing. Otherauthors tend to stick with one topic or the other in a single volume. Forthat reason, this is a great book. A second edition (with expansion ofsome areas -- or simplification of others) could make this book just aboutperfect.

In addition to the above issue of direction, the book suffers from sometypesetting issues (one example: the pronunciation guide is frequentlyreferred to as being on pages 275-276, when it is actually on pages286-287). The maps are useful but in some cases do not show the level ofdetail needed (one example: the Scottish Island of Iona is mentionedfrequently in early chapters but is neither labeled on the UK maps used,nor is it identified as an island in Scotland in the body of the text).Finally, the phonological descriptions tend to fall victim to what I callthe Atlantic Phonetic Syndrome. In other words, British authors coveringphonology tend to make errors when discussing American phonology andAmerican authors do the same when discussing British phonology (oneexample: the authors, one of whom is British, claim that ''most Americansdistinguish between 'witch' and 'which' – they pronounce /hw/ in wordsspelled with 'wh.''' I would say that the /hw/ pronunciation is very markedin the GA of today. Henry Rogers (2000) says this distinction is ''commonin the south-eastern United States, and less so elsewhere.'' As anAmerican who has traveled widely, including in the south-eastern UnitedStates, I have personally come across less than five American speakers whohave made this distinction and all of them were grammar teachers!)

Overall, this is a 'great' reference book and a 'good' text book whichcould be made better if the authors make the decision that it should be atext book for the next edition.


Brown, D. (2003). The Da Vinci code. New York: Doubleday.

Crystal, D. (1988). The English language. London: Penguin Books.

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed.). CambridgeUniversity Press.

Crystal, D. (2004). The stories of English. London: Penguin Books.

Kachru, B. B. (1985). Standards, codification, and sociolinguistic realism:The English language in the outer circle. In R. Quirk, & H. G. Widdowson(Eds.), English in the world, 11–30. Cambridge University Press.

McArthur, T. (1998). The English languages. Cambridge University Press.

McArthur, T. (2003). The Oxford guide to world English. Oxford UniversityPress.

Rogers, H. (2000). The sounds of language: An introduction to phonetics.Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Limited.


Kane Gilmour is a U.S. Senior English Language Fellow in Sri Lankaconducting EFL teacher-training. He is completing his dissertation on SriLankan varieties of English. He is interested in World Englishes andpidgin languages.