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Review of  The Art of English

Reviewer: Sandra Greiffenstern
Book Title: The Art of English
Book Author: Janet Maybin Joan Swann
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Ling & Literature
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 19.860

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EDITORS: Janet Maybin; Joan Swann
TITLE: The Art of English
SUBTITLE: Everyday Creativity
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2006

Sandra Greiffenstern, Humboldt-Universität Berlin

This book examines notions of creativity with language. As stated in the
introduction, the book's aim is to suggest ''that the kinds of language
creativity and artistry found in art and literature can also be found in the
communication practices of everyday life'' (p. 1). The book considers theories
from the fields of poetics, stylistics, sociolinguistics, New Literacy Studies
and social history. Moreover, it develops a sociocultural approach to understand
''how language creativity works in a range of different contexts, from everyday
conversation and internet chat to letter writing in prison, home-made
advertisements in Namibia and Valentines cards in nineteenth-century Britain''
(p. 1). According to the book's definition, language creativity includes textual
artistry and the ways in which people use language creatively to construct
identity and manage relationships with others.

The books seems to be intended for students because each chapter includes
activities intended to achieve a better understanding of the topics discussed,
and associated readings which are mainly extracts from studies dealing with the
topic examined in the chapter. Moreover, there are boxed texts within the
chapters giving additional information, illustrative examples or definitions.

Chapter 1, ''The art of the everyday'', introduces the topic. Here, Joan Swann
examines the argument that some kinds of linguistic creativity which are
associated with poetry and forms of literature are features of everyday
language. These features include play with the sounds and structures of
language, repetitions, metaphors, rhyme and rhythm. She gives several examples
of artful language in different situations and shows that creativity is not
restricted to literary texts but a common aspect of everyday language and that
creativity in language serves several interactional functions.

Chapter 2, ''Telling Stories'', deals with different forms of storytelling. There
are several examples of different kinds of stories told in different situations
to show the functions of storytelling, for example, the making or remaking of
the storyteller's identity and his relationship with the addressees. Often,
background knowledge, for example, certain cultural knowledge or simply some
private knowledge, is needed to fully understand a story. Storytelling is
depicted as something natural, as a core human activity, which includes
narrative creativity. Thus, creativity with language is seen as an everyday

Chapter 3, ''Putting on the style'', looks at the idea that all interaction
between people can be seen as a type of performance. Interactions are seen as
performances in which people take on different personae and show different
aspects of their identities. This chapter describes different ways people use
language in order to 'style' themselves and how language varieties acquire
meaning due to their use by different social groups, for example, Polari, a
secret language variety used by working-class gay speakers in Britain in the
past, or the role language plays in the Miss Galaxy beauty pageant in Tonga.

Chapter 4, ''Child's play'', looks at children's creativity with language, ranging
from infancy to school-age. It is based on the assumption that children's word
play and even young children's sound play is linked to creative processes in
adult talk. By showing examples and studies of children of different ages, the
author of the chapter argues that everyday creativity in language has its roots
in childhood.

Chapter 5, ''Making connections with new technologies'', looks at the impact
communication technologies have on the way people use language. It concentrates
on text-based computer-mediated communication (CMC), mainly communication via
emails, text messaging, online chat and computer conferencing. It is shown that
the absence of extralinguistic clues in online communication encourages
linguistic creativity and that people seem to be more playful with language in
computer-mediated communication, for example, with the help of shared cultural
knowledge. Here, creativity helps people to perform an identity and build or
strengthen relationships with their interlocutors.

Chapter 6, ''Writing the self'', focuses on the relationship between language use,
creativity and the self. It examines ideas about creative interactive
performances and tries to answer the question how we perform or create
particular kinds of identity through writing. To do so, four genres of writing
are explored: diaries or journals, letter-writing, graffiti and web homepages.
It is shown that these genres provide opportunities for creativity, are embedded
in social practices, shape interactions, and help to express and construct

Chapter 7, ''Literacies, collaboration and context'', addresses the creativity and
artfulness in people's everyday practices of producing and interacting with
texts, their literacy practices. It looks at the nature of different literacy
practices, the contexts theses are situated in and how people react creatively
to opportunities or constraints within different contexts, for example,
newsletters, a private autobiography, or text messaging. The authors of the
chapter argue that ''creativity in written language is dependent on and emergent
from the creative literacy practices through which texts are constructed, and
that there is also creativity in the ways texts are read and used.'' (p. 312) In
this chapter, the importance of collaboration and interaction regarding literacy
practices is shown, too. The chapter concludes with the statement that
creativity in written language is neither a decontextualised individual
activity, nor that it is entirely shaped by the context within which it is
situated but that it emerges from a relationship between the two. For creativity
in their literacy practices, people draw from interactional, contextual and
sociocultural aspects of the setting in which they try to achieve their goals.

Chapter 8, ''The 19th-century communication revolution'', provides a historical
perspective on literacy and creativity in nineteenth-century Britain. This
century was a significant time for literacy, partly due to technological and
social changes. The focus of the chapter is on the literacy practices of the
newly emerging literate mass in Britain. More and more people had opportunities
to obtain and read and also to write creative texts. As examples of these new
developments the Penny Post, broadsides, and also Charles Dickens' work are
named. This chapter shows that today's revolutions in mass communication have to
be seen in relation to older developments to evaluate their significance.
Regarding creativity, the historical examples show that already in the past
people sometimes improvised using their resources for communication creatively.

Chapter 9, ''Locating creativity in texts and practices'', functions as a
conclusion. The reader is reminded of the different concepts to analyze
creativity in language which were introduced in the previous chapters. Next, the
argument of the book - that there is creativity in everyday language use - is
developed further. The chapter presents an overall framework for looking at
creativity in everyday language and applies the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin and
Erving Goffman to the findings of previous chapters. These theories mostly
underline the social approaches to analyze creativity in language; other
approaches were more focused on the text itself or based on ethnographic and
historical studies.

This book provides a thorough examination of ideas about everyday creativity
using a variety of approaches. The main focus of the book is to probe the
argument that speakers and writers routinely use language creatively, and that
there is some continuity between everyday creativity and literary language. The
book is well-structured and covers many spheres of language use, showing for
each of them that there is language creativity. The examples of language users
who employ language creatively range from small children to elderly people.
Moreover, many different ways of communication are covered: spoken narratives,
young children talking to themselves, email and chat, letters, graffiti,
webpages, postcards, and many more. The focus is not only on written or spoken
language but also on the impact of interaction, the functions of talk and
literacy, and the potential and limits of the contexts in which language is
used. The findings of each chapter support the argument that there is creativity
in everyday language. It is also pointed out that language creativity is used
within a dynamic process, and that the idea of what counts as creativity is
changing constantly. For example, what is seen as creative language use in chat
rooms today may soon be conventional language use on the Internet.

Furthermore, in the different chapters of the book, several theories are
presented and applied to the examples and their analysis. So, it serves as
introduction to some theories which students might like to read about more in
the course of their studies, for example, in the first chapter the notion of
conceptual metaphors, or in the third chapter the concept of performativity.
More advanced scholars might sometimes find certain information or explanations
- often found in the boxed texts - superfluous but they do serve as good
introductions to follow the analysis. On the one hand, one sometimes gets the
impression that the editors overdo it a little bit when they show so many
spheres of language use where one can find creativity and some readers might get
tired of reading nine chapters which serve the same purpose, on the other hand,
this approach helps to underline their main argument.

All in all, the book presents a good overview of language creativity. The main
argument - that people use language creatively in their everyday literacy
practices - is underpinned with the help of many examples and never gets out of
focus. For students, it is a good introduction to the idea of language
creativity and related theories, while scholars who are already familiar with
the topic might skip some of the boxed text and activities, but it certainly
contains some new ideas for them, too.

Sandra Greiffenstern is a PhD student at the department of English and American
Studies at Humboldt-Universität Berlin. Currently, she is working on her
dissertation which deals with developments in the English language due to the
increasing use of computers and the Internet and looks at the impact
computer-mediated communication has on everyday language use.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1403985596
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 480
Prices: U.K. £ 21.99