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Review of  An Introduction to Late Modern English

Reviewer: Svenja Kranich
Book Title: An Introduction to Late Modern English
Book Author: Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 21.2452

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AUTHOR: Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid
TITLE: An Introduction to Late Modern English
SERIES: Edinburgh Textbooks on the English Language
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2009

Svenja Kranich, University of Hamburg


This textbook offers a very useful and stimulating introduction to a long
neglected period in the history of the English language. Ingrid Tieken-Boon van
Ostade draws on her own extensive research in the field as well as research in
projects supervised by her which have produced fascinating insights. The only
shortcoming of this otherwise recommendable book is, to my mind, a certain
neglect for perspectives on Late Modern English that do not share the
sociohistorical and historical pragmatics focus (e.g. corpus-linguistic studies
by Hundt 2004, Smitterberg 2005, Noël 2008, Kranich 2008).

The organization of the book is clear and easy to follow. Chapter 1 offers an
introduction to the historical background of the Late Modern English period,
with a clear focus on aspects most relevant for linguistic change, such as
education, literacy and social mobility. Student readers can be expected to be
particularly drawn into the topic by references to the lives of individuals,
particularly well-known (and loved) figures such as Jane Austen.

Chapter 2 deals with pronunciation. As all chapters it presents a mixture of
information on changes in the language system (e.g. loss of initial aspiration
in words such as 'which') and on the linguistic usage of individuals. Here, as
elsewhere, it is a very positive feature of the book that readers are informed
about the sources used by linguists to arrive at conclusions about language use
in historical times. Readers are also made aware of possible misapprehensions,
e.g. they are warned against taking dialect representation in novels to
represent naturalistic representations (p. 30) and against assuming that court
transcripts represent faithful transcriptions of oral data, when, as Tieken-Boon
van Ostade rightly stresses, they ''were made by clerks, not linguists, and the
purpose of the records was to preserve the contents of the proceedings, not the
pronunciation of the speakers'' (p. 17).

Chapter 3 provides information on the development of spelling. Readers are made
aware of differences between public spelling systems, as used in printed books,
and private spelling systems, used e.g. in private letters. The chapter
furthermore contains information on the teaching of spelling, its importance for
social distinction as well as on the process of standardization.

Chapter 4 can be said to have a two-fold aim: on the one hand, it provides
information about lexical innovation and change in the period; on the other
hand, it familiarizes readers with the OED (its history, its present state of
review, its shortcomings). By focusing on 'first users' (as listed in the OED)
of new lexical items, once more Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade's presentation can
be expected to draw student readers into the topic by giving the information a
touch of human interest.

Chapter 5 looks at a wide variety of grammatical constructions and patterns of
variation, including e.g. the subjunctive, the use of future markers and
gerundial constructions. It presents an insightful discussion of the (limits of
the) influence of grammar writing on actual usage.

Chapter 6 provides readers with useful information about social networks and
their impact on language variation and change. It shows how the concept of
social networks can be fruitfully employed in historical contexts by giving many
vivid examples. The question of gender and language use is also discussed here.

Chapter 7 introduces readers to the concept of text types and then proceeds to
give an overview of language use in different text types in Late Modern English.
In this context readers are also familiarized with the dimensions (e.g. involved
vs. informational) of text production introduced by Biber (1988).


This introductory textbook, written in a lively and engaging style, offers an
accessible introduction to the study of Late Modern English. Teachers of
seminars not only on the specific period of Late Modern English, but also of
general introductions to historical linguistics, the history of the English
language or sociolinguistic seminars (which include a diachronic perspective)
will find material they can profitably integrate into their curriculum.

The organization of the book generally allows students to either read the whole
book or individual chapters, although there are certain pieces of information
that might have been repeated to facilitate the latter use (e.g. p. 45, where
the author refers to ''the social class to which Elizabeth Clift belonged'', which
either presupposes too much background knowledge or that the reader has retained
the information from previous chapters).

The organization of the individual chapters is also in general very
well-conceived, although one might note a slight weakness in the organization of
chapter 6, as it starts by discussing a specific pattern of variation and only
introduces the concepts crucial to the chapter, i.e. Milroy's (1987) Social
Network Analysis, in section 6.3. This may be somewhat confusing to readers
unfamiliar with the model.

The focus of the book is clearly inspired by a take on language change that is
most interested in actual language use and language users. It thus draws very
much on historical sociolinguistic and historical pragmatics studies, which
provide indeed very interesting insights. Sometimes it seems a more clear-cut
distinction could have been made between language usage and language system,
however, and it is a bit of a shame, in my view, that the concentration on the
(very necessary) discussion of individual usage and social variation sometimes
leaves very little room to the discussion of the latter. This is in particular
notable in chapter 5 on 'Grammar and Grammars', which would have been a great
place to illustrate that indeed, as stated on the back cover, it is ''far from
true'' ''that nothing much happened to the English language since the beginning of
the eighteenth century'', by showing fundamental changes in the system of the
language (e.g. in regard to the status of 'do'-support, mentioned only briefly
in regard to sociolinguistic patterns of use, or concerning developments in the
tense-mood-aspect system, e.g. the development of the progressive). While true
innovations are indeed rare, as is pointed out, the obligatorification of some
major grammatical constructions in the period under consideration constitutes a
significant type of change that, to my mind, would have deserved to have been

Another issue that I would have liked to have seen addressed in more detail in
an introduction to the Late Modern period would have been the development of
English into a world language - a development for which the period is crucial.
Some comments are made on divergence of British and American use and on
attitudes towards e.g. Irish speakers of English, but the split-up of different
national Englishes is not systematically treated. If one uses this introduction
as a textbook for a seminar, I would therefore suggest to provide additional
reading to students with these points in mind (e.g. Denison 1998, excerpts from
Burchfield (ed.) 1994, Algeo (ed.) 2001).

A particular benefit of the book is that at many different points it draws
attention to interesting research questions readers could pursue and provides
information on available resources. One more important (and freely available)
data base for the study of Late Modern English that should be mentioned is the
Corpus of Late Modern English Texts (CLMET;, the corpus make-up is presented
in detail by De Smet 2005).

Another positive feature of the book lies in the research questions for
students. These research tasks listed at the end of each chapter are generally
very well construed, feasible and likely to engender interest in students. Some
can be used for larger research projects, others are suitable as shorter
exercises, or for take-home-exams. The tasks presented at the end of chapter 6
stand out a bit in that they seem all in all rather difficult and time-consuming
(e.g. task 10, to analyze the difference in usage of the progressive in
correspondence according to addressees and style in writing would be an
interesting research question for a master's thesis, but for any smaller scale
exercise it would prove hardly feasible to produce interesting results).

To conclude, despite some gaps (almost inevitable in writing a short
introduction) and possibilities for improvement, this is a recommendable book
that will allow readers a good insight into the language use and the social
background of speakers of Late Modern English.


Algeo, John (ed.) 2001. The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol. VI:
English in North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Biber, Douglas. 1988. Variation across Speech and Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Burchfield, Robert (ed.) 1994. The Cambridge History of the English Language.
Vol. V: English in Britain and Overseas. Origin and Development. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Denison, David. 1998. Syntax. In Romaine, Suzanne (ed.), The Cambridge History
of the English Language. Vol. IV. 1776-1997. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 92-329.
De Smet, Hendrik. 2005. A corpus of Late Modern English. ICAME-Journal 29: 69-82.
Hundt, Marianne. 2004. The Passival and the Progressive Passive: A Case Study of
Layering in the English Aspect and Voice Systems. In Lindquist, Hans & Christian
Mair (eds.), Corpus Approaches to Grammaticalization in English. Amsterdam:
Benjamins, 79-120.
Kranich, Svenja. 2008. Subjective Progressives in Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Century English. Secondary Grammaticalization as a Process of Objectification.
In Gotti, Maurizio, Marina Dossena and Richard Dury (Hrsg.), English Historical
Linguistics 2006. Vol. I Syntax and Morphology. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 241-256.
Milroy, Leslie. 1987. Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Blackwell.
Noël, Dirk. 2008. The Nominative and Infinitive in Late Modern English. A
Diachronic Constructionist Approach. Journal of English Linguistics 36: 314-340.
OED. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smitterberg, Erik. 2005. The Progressive in 19th-century English. A Process of
Integration. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Svenja Kranich is full-time researcher in the project 'Covert Translation' at the University of Hamburg funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Her research interests include language variation and change, language contact, corpus linguistics, semantics, pragmatics and textlinguistics. After a PhD thesis on the development of the progressive in Modern English, she is currently working on the use of evaluative lexis and the use of epistemic modals as hedges in English and German original and translated texts, as well as on establishing a general framework for studying translation-induced language variation and change.

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