LINGUIST List 24.2262

Sat Jun 01 2013

Review: Historical Linguistics; General Linguistics: Mugglestone (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 22-Apr-2013
From: Jessie Sams <>
Subject: The Oxford History of English
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EDITOR: Lynda MugglestoneTITLE: The Oxford History of EnglishSUBTITLE: Revised EditionPUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Jessie Sams, Stephen F. Austin State University

SUMMARYIn the Introduction, Lynda Mugglestone writes that “the emphasis throughoutthe following volume is placed on the construction of ‘a history’ rather than‘the history’, recognizing many other pathways could be navigated through thepast--and present--of the English language” (2). The path this text takes isone that asks its readers to:

“rethink the various aspects of the history for the English language—to engagewith the past through private as well as public discourses, to look at theusage of men and women, of standard and non-standard speakers, at English atthe borders and margins of time and space, from prehistory to thepresent-day, and as subject to the changing pressures and contexts whichconstantly influence usage, as well as to examine some of the motives andexplanations which may underpin change as it took place within the past” (7).

The intended audience includes both beginning students and interestedscholars, as evidenced through the use of short texts with appropriate glosses(and translating in full where necessary), explanations of terminology used,and full sections of suggested further readings at the end of each chapter.Each chapter also footnotes sources directly quoted and/or summarized in thetext. The footnotes often are shown with commentary on the source(s) beingcited and include related readings to direct interest readers to similarsources.

The chapters are organized primarily chronologically, though groups ofchapters focus on the same time periods but analyze the language usage fromdifferent angles during that same time period. While the chapters are not separatedinto groups, I have grouped the fourteen chapters into four major groups: prehistoryand earliest attestations of English (including Old and Middle English), Early ModernEnglish, moving toward Modern English, and the English language today.

The first four chapters cover the prehistory and earliest forms of the Englishlanguage. In Chapter 1, “Preliminaries: Before English,” Terry Hoad writesabout the Indo-European and Germanic beginnings of what would become the OldEnglish language and discusses linguistic concepts like language families,historical linguistics, proto-languages, and Grimm’s Law. Chapter 2,“Beginnings and Transitions: Old English,” by Susan Irvine, moves on to theOld English language and she organizes the chapter--and its exampletexts--around “five historical watersheds” (41): the Anglo-Saxon invasion ofBritain, the rise of Christianity, King Alfred’s reign, the BenedictineReform, and the Norman Conquest. The third chapter, “Contacts and Conflicts:Latin, Norse, and French,” by Matthew Townend, addresses the role of languagecontact in the development of medieval English, specifically focusing on Latin(ecclesiastical influence), Norse (Viking influence), and French (the NormanConquest). And, finally, in Chapter 4, “Middle English: Dialects andDiversity,” Marilyn Corrie discusses (as the title suggests) dialectaldiversity in Middle English but also discusses the anxieties of scholars aboutthe English language, which began the initial waves of standardization, andthe changing roles of written language in society.

The next four chapters cover roughly the same time frame, the late fifteenththrough late seventeenth centuries. In Chapter 5, “From Middle to Early ModernEnglish,” Jeremy J. Smith addresses the fours stages of standardization inEnglish during the transition from Middle to Early Modern English(elaboration, selection, codification, and acceptance), weaving together theinternal and external histories of the language to show how the languageprogressed through those four stages. Chapter 6, “Restructuring RenaissanceEnglish,” by April McMahon, discusses changes to long and short vowels duringthe sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and, thus, the debate surrounding whatmany term the Great Vowel Shift. In the seventh chapter, “Mapping Change inTudor English,” Terttu Nevalainen writes about specific linguistic features ofsixteenth-century English and the use of corpora to distinguish thesefeatures; the primary features discussed are verbal ‘-(e)th’ versus the‘-(e)s’ ending, the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘thou’, and ‘do’ as an auxiliary verb.In the eighth chapter, “The Babel of Renaissance English,” Paula Blank aims todebunk the myth that English was largely standardized by late RenaissanceEnglish by examining regional dialects and sociolects.

Chapters 9 and 10 both cover English from the eighteenth and nineteenthcenturies. In “English at the Onset of the Normative Tradition,” IngridTieken-Boon Van Ostade further discusses standardization, focusing on howgeographical and social mobility of speakers during the eighteenth century ledto the (near) completion of the four stages of standardization noted inSmith’s chapter. She analyzes language from personal correspondence and a widevariety of writers (male/female, differing levels of education, classdistinctions) and information from grammars. In “English in the NineteenthCentury,” Lynda Mugglestone points out that while many regard the English ofthe nineteenth century as a language that has been stabilized, there was stilla great deal of change in the language--especially when considering privatewritings and dialectal variations. She also discusses the origins of the OldEnglish Dictionary.

The final four chapters cover English today. In Chapter 11, “Modern RegionalEnglish in the British Isles,” Clive Upton discusses the beginnings ofdialectology, how regional dialect areas are defined, and features that vary(pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar). Throughout, he reminds readers thatdialects are not easily pinned down and that even strongly distinctiveregional features can be muddied by other factors, such as education level,socioeconomic status, gender, and geographic mobility of individual speakers.In the twelfth chapter, “English Among the Languages,” Richard W. Baileydiscusses language interaction between English and other languages from thefourteenth century to today, focusing on borrowings, pidgins/creoles, andspeaker attitudes toward other languages and other “Englishes.” In Chapter 13,“English World-wide in the Twentieth Century,” Tom McArthur writes about thechanges to English in the twentieth century, its growing status as a globallanguage, and the difficulties of defining “English” due to that growth. Thefinal chapter, “Into the Twenty-first Century,” by David Crystal, addressesthree major areas in which the long-term consequences are unknown:globalization, the Internet, and educational change.

EVALUATIONThis book does indeed reach the goals included in Mugglestone’s introduction(see summary above). The chapters use a variety of sources when examining thestatus of the language--including, for example, private and public documents,male and female authors, and standard and non-standard usage. Moreover,authors tend to focus not just on the language itself but on the context ofthe changes (i.e., the majority of the chapters do not provide technicallinguistic analyses of the language but instead offer a description of thetypes of changes taking place and potential reasons for those changes).

The book can be used by independent scholars; however, independent scholarswho wish to read a history of the English language with a focus on thelinguistic features themselves (or with a focus on more technical informationabout those features) may wish to look elsewhere (e.g., Algeo 2010, Freeborn2006). This book focuses more on the underpinnings of the changes than on thechanges themselves, making it more appropriate for readers interested insociolinguistic information, such as shifts in attitudes toward languagevarieties over time.

The book can definitely be used by advanced students in an upper-level collegeclassroom but could also be modified for more beginning students throughaccompanying lecture and classroom discussion. For example, chapters freelyuse the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) but don’t stop to explain whatIPA is. In the list of IPA symbols with corresponding words for pronunciationin the front matter of the book, students without introductory knowledge ofIPA may miss some of the distinctions being made by, for example, soundchanges in English that only affected particular phonological categories(e.g., voiceless fricatives).

When original texts are provided, only short excerpts are given (culled fortheir use of a specific feature or to showcase a specific dialect). These“snapshots” are especially helpful for beginning students--they providesmaller amounts of information to digest when thinking about linguisticprinciples and yet still provide solid examples of language during that timeframe. All texts are also either fully translated or glossed (words notrelated to modern forms are defined in the sidebar).

Before reading the book, my biggest concern was coherence; I was worried thatsuch a text would be jarring when each chapter was written in a differentauthorial voice. However, the chapters tie nicely together, with eachmentioning previous and/or future chapters, and no single chapter stands outas being written by a different author. Even though some features may changefrom chapter to chapter, they are not noticeable enough to feel as thoughchanging chapters is like changing books.

The use of terminology is largely cohesive throughout the text; for example,the four stages of standardization are first mentioned by Smith (Chapter 5)and then again by Tieken-Boon Van Ostade (Chapter 9), both using the sameterminology and type of approach. There are a few instances, though, of mixedterminology. For example, if students are unaware of terminology for timeperiods, they may get confused on three chapters in particular: Chapters 6-8cover the same time period from different angles; however, McMahonrefers to it as ‘Renaissance English’ in Chapter 6, Nevalainen as ‘TudorEnglish’ in Chapter 7, and Blank as ‘Renaissance English’ again in Chapter 8.These labels are used without reference to one another, and even I had to lookup information on the labels to verify that they were, indeed, referring tothe same time period. Matters like these are simple to explain in a course,but students attempting self-study need to be motivated enough to do a littleoutside research to better understand labels and terminology employedthroughout the text.

One difference between this text and others like it is its emphasis on moremodern Englishes, as opposed to a heavier emphasis on Old and Middle English.For example, Freeborn (2006) and Baugh and Cable (2013) devote nearly half oftheir books to Old and Middle English while this text has only three out offourteen chapters specifically devoted to Old and Middle English. Scholars andteachers who want to spend more time on those older forms of the language willnot benefit as much from this text.

The chapters do not provide labeled “Future Research” sections, but many domention areas that are understudied; for example, when writing about personalletters during the eighteenth century, Tieken-Boon Van Ostade writes that “avast amount of material is therefore still waiting to be analysed” (311).Other authors mention specific corpora and how scholars can utilize suchmodern tools to further aid research. Some chapters provide (by design orhappy accident) sections that could easily serve as prompts for studentessays. An example is found in the conclusion of Blank’s chapter onRenaissance English: “The earliest language reformers, seeking to ‘remedyBabel’, hoped to promote intellectual clarity and cultural cohesion, and yet,what might have been lost--even in terms of their own goals--had they found away to rule or suppress what Thomas Sprat, on behalf of the Royal Society,condemned in 1667 as ‘this vicious abundance of ‘Phrase’ . . . this volubilityof ‘Tongue’, which makes so great a noise in the World’?” (295) Such questionscould easily serve as fodder for researched essays in--or outside--theclassroom.

“The Oxford History of English” is the best text I have found to date to useas the primary text for my History of the English Language course. Afterteaching that course in a variety of ways to a mixture of students (some ofwhom have never heard the word ‘linguistics’ before while others have alreadytaken several linguistics courses), I believe the approach taken in thisvolume is the best for such a classroom. Its incorporation of original textswithout overwhelming students, along with the many suggested further readings,will allow me to more easily adapt the information to both beginning and moreadvanced students.

REFERENCESAlgeo, John. 2010. The Origins and Development of the English Language (6thed.). Boston: Wadsworth.

Baugh, Albert C. and Thomas Cable. 2013. A History of the English Language(6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Freeborn, Dennis. 2006. From Old English to Standard English: A Course Book inVariation across Time (3rd ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERJessie Sams is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Stephen F. AustinState University in Nacogdoches, TX. Her primary research interests includethe intersection of syntax and semantics, English quotatives, English grammar,and history of the English language.

Page Updated: 01-Jun-2013