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Review of  The History of English

Reviewer: Sofia Rüdiger
Book Title: The History of English
Book Author: Alexander Bergs Laurel Brinton
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 30.1100

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“Varieties of English” is Part 5 of the multi-volume edited collection “The History of English” (Volume 1: Historical Outlines from Sound to Text; Volume 2: Old English; Volume 3: Middle English; Volume 4: Early Modern English) edited by Alexander Bergs and Laurel J. Brinton. The volumes appeared as part of the Mouton Reader series and are based on the two-volume publication “English Historical Linguistics: An International Handbook” (Bergs and Brinton 2012). In other words, the contributions in “The History of English – Varieties of English” have all appeared before in the previously mentioned handbook.

The edited volume consists of an introductory chapter, 19 topical contributions, and an index.

After a short description of the series and the volume by the editors Laurel J. Brinton and Alexander Bergs in Chapter 1, the first topical chapter (Chapter 2), authored by Richard W. Bailey, starts out with the diachronic development of “Standard American English”. Bailey describes the external history of English on the North American continent and how language attitudes developed alongside the American English variety. He also critically surveys the notion of ‘standard languages’ and gives indications regarding the future development of Standard American English.

Chapter 3 by Luanne von Schneidemesser turns to the “Regional Varieties of American English” and the history of dialect geography in North America. She surveys different linguistic atlases of the region, such as the “Linguistic Atlas of New England”, the “Dictionary of American Regional English”, and the “Atlas of North American English”. The chapter includes several reproductions of dialect maps from these publications, which visualize their approach to the study of variation.

Stefan Dollinger, in Chapter 4 “Canadian English in Real-time Perspective”, gives a diachronic overview of Canadian English from settlement to current and prospective developments in lexis, phonetics and phonology, morphosyntax, pragmatics, and language attitudes. Dollinger also describes the data sources and the evidence used in the study of the history of Canadian English and what they can tell linguists about the variety: historic self-report surveys, corpora, sociolinguistic interviews (for apparent-time approaches), and historically-informed modeling of contact scenarios.

Chapter 5, “Re-viewing the Origins and History of African American Language” by Sonja J. Lanehart assesses different theories posited regarding the origin and development of African American Language (AAL): the deficit position (as a historical and outdated point of view), Anglicist and Creolist positions, as well as substratist, restructuralist, ecological, and divergence positions. Also included in the chapter is a comprehensive summary of phonological, morphological, and syntactic features of AAL.

Pam Peters in Chapter 6 describes the foundation and ensuing development of “Standard British English”. Peters divides this description into two stages: emergence (16th to 18th century) and colonialism and postcolonialism (18th to 20th century). The chapter also explicates linguistic features associated with current Standard British English and the role this variety plays as international reference variety.

Chapter 7 is co-authored by Bernd Kortmann and Christian Langstrof and surveys “Regional Varieties of British English”. The focus of this chapter is on the description of phonetic, phonological, and morphosyntactic regional features of contemporary British English and how these features developed diachronically.

Chapter 8 by Lynda Mugglestone examines the development of “Received Pronunciation” (RP), beginning in the 18th century, but covering also the 21st century controversies based on identity and language ideologies. Besides drawing on written material from the 19th century scholar Alexander Ellis, Mugglestone also quotes material from the BBC Written Archives Center (WAC) to demonstrate the role of the BBC in the consolidation of a supra-regional standard pronunciation (aka BBC pronunciation).

The following chapter by Ulrike Altendorf deals with the history of the much contended term “Estuary English” (EE). Altendorf traces the dissemination of the EE label by journalists and literary authors as well as its use by linguists. Her overview of variants associated with EE hereby focuses on regional variation (in the south-east and beyond the south-east) and social variation. Also examined is the notion of EE as a style. Despite difficulties of grasping a clear definition of EE, a succinct summary synthesized from previous research demonstrates what EE is not in terms of regional variation (i.e., EE is not a south-eastern variety) and recency (i.e., EE is not a new phenomenon).

Chapter 10 is written by Sue Fox and examines the development of “Cockney”. The chapter contains a detailed summary of the pronunciation of Cockney. More concise, shorter descriptions of morpho-syntactic and pragmatic features of Cockney are also included. Fox also addresses Cockney rhyming slang as the stereotypical association with Cockney. Due to changes in the demographic makeup of the original boroughs where Cockney was traditionally used, the dialect area has changed drastically. Fox, therefore, also references the notion of Multicultural London English.

“Celtic and Celtic Englishes” are the subject of Chapter 11, co-authored by Markku Filppula and Juhani Klemola. The Celtic Hypothesis (CH), i.e., the hypothesis that Celtic languages influenced English (beyond the minimal lexical impact on English posited frequently in textbooks of the history of English), is at the core of this chapter. Filppula and Klemola focus on two constructions to show potential syntactic influences from Celtic on English: 1) uses of the progressive form, and 2) it-cleft constructions. The authors argue that contact phenomena between Celtic and English have occurred in two time periods, one historical (early medieval period) and one recent (modern contact period).

Next, Robert McColl Millar expands upon the historical development of “Scots” (Chapter 12). In his summary of the external history of language in Scotland, McColl Millar considers a number of aspects, ranging from the spread of Old English in the region to Low German and French influences. Other important changes are related to religion and social hierarchies.

Chapter 13 by Jeffrey L. Kallen deals with the development and spread of “English in Ireland”. Kallen starts with the introduction of English to Ireland in the 12th century by Cambro-Normans and continues to trace the subsequent historical and social development of English in the Irish context. The chapter also contains a comprehensive diachronic overview of Irish English lexicon, syntax, and phonology.

The next chapter (Chapter 14) by Colin H. Williams regards the use of “English in Wales”. A long introduction section comprises an overview of the historical developments which influenced language use in Wales starting with the Romano-British period (43-c.410 CE). This is followed by a survey of contemporary Welsh English features on the levels of phonology, grammar, and vocabulary. Williams subsequently considers language choice in Welsh literature and gives information on language policies (in education and in general).

Chapter 15, authored by Marianne Hundt, summarizes the diachronic development of “Australian/New Zealand English”. Hundt describes both the differences and commonalities of the two English varieties in terms of accent, lexicon, and grammar. The chapter concludes with an overview of social, ethnic, and regional dialects in both countries.

Devyani Sharma surveys “English in India” in Chapter 16. She proceeds through the chapter by describing the historical developments and linguistic structures of four phases of English in India: early presence, colonial rule, independence movement, and independence. The chapter concludes with an overview of Indian English features related to regional, social, and register variation.

Rajend Mesthrie describes the uses of English in Africa in Chapter 17, “English in Africa – A Diachronic Typology”. This includes the development of pidgins, creoles, and L1 and L2 Englishes. Mesthrie details three vowel chain shifts found in South African English varieties. Other linguistic levels besides phonology are only treated cursorily.

The last three chapters of the edited collection differ somewhat from the rest of the volume. Instead of focusing on a specific variety or group of varieties dependent on their regional contextualization, they describe important processes and theoretical considerations related to language variation. Chapter 18 by David Britain deals with “Diffusion”, the spread of innovative linguistic forms. After clarifying comments on the terminology used, Britain considers diffusion both at the micro- and macro-level. Insight from various empirical studies exemplify the processes at hand. Raymond Hickey in Chapter 19 describes “Supraregionalization”, that is how varieties can become less regional in the features that are used and more spread geographically. After explaining the theoretical background, Hickey uses mainly Irish English to demonstrate the mechanisms at play. The last chapter of the edited volume on the topic of “Pidgins and Creoles” is written by Suzanne Romaine. Romaine introduces the problems associated with defining pidgins and creoles as well as different theories regarding the origin of pidgins and creoles. The chapter also contains explanations of basic concepts employed in the study of pidgins and creoles, for example, the creole continuum.


The edited volume is a coherent collection of overview articles on the diachronic development of a number of varieties of English. The chapters are authored by leading experts in the respective fields and each chapter provides an authoritative and comprehensive overview of the topic at hand. All chapters have previously been published as part of the two-volume publication “English Historical Linguistics: An International Handbook” (Bergs and Brinton 2012), so they do not, as such, provide new insight into the varieties under consideration. Due to its very affordable price (29.95 € / $34.99 / £27.00 at the time of writing this review), the edited collection is a great resource for students (both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels) and can be used either for self-study or as assigned reading for courses on the historical development of varieties of English.

While all chapters provide excellent overviews of the respective variety of English, the selection of varieties to be included (depending of course for this reprint of material on the original publications available in the handbook in 2012) remains rather conservative with a strong focus on traditional ‘native speaker’ varieties of English. The chapters on “English in India” (Devyani Sharma), “English in Africa – A Diachronic Typology” (Rajend Mesthrie), and “Pidgins and Creoles” (Suzanne Romaine) are the only chapters considering other types of English, even though diachronic research in this field has been gaining ground in recent years (e.g., Brato 2018, Siemund & Li 2017; see also many of the contributions in Buschfeld, Hoffmann, Huber & Kautzsch 2014). In this regard, a chapter on the historical development of post-colonial varieties in general, for example, introducing Schneider’s (2003, 2007) Dynamic Model on the evolution of post-colonial Englishes, would have added another valuable perspective to the edited volume.

Altogether, the reader provides a great overview of the historical dimensions related to a number of varieties of English. Its comprehensiveness and affordability make it a particularly attractive addition to personal and institutional libraries and it will surely find its place on recommended reading lists for courses on varieties of English in general and diachronic variety development more specifically. Individual chapters are also of relevance to courses related to the respective variety under consideration.


Bergs, Alexander and Laurel J. Brinton. 2012. English Historical Linguistics: An International Handbook. 2 Volumes. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Brato, Thorsten. 2018 (First View). ‘Outdooring’ the Historical Corpus of English in Ghana. English Today

Buschfeld, Sarah, Thomas Hoffmann, Magnus Huber and Alexander Kautzsch (eds.). 2014. The Evolution of Englishes: The Dynamic Model and beyond. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Schneider, Edgar W. 2003. The dynamics of New Englishes: From identity construction to dialect birth. Language in Society 79(2). 233-281.

Schneider, Edgar. 2007. Postcolonial English: Varieties around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siemund, Peter and Lijun Li. 2017. Towards a diachronic reconstruction of Colloquial Singapore English. In: Debra Ziegeler und Bao Zhiming, (eds.). Negation and Contact. With Special Focus on Singapore English. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 11-32.
Sofia Rüdiger is a research assistant at the English Linguistics department of the University of Bayreuth in Germany where she recently completed a PhD thesis on the use of morpho-syntactic patterns by Korean speakers of English. She holds an M.A. in Intercultural Anglophone Studies and her main research interests are World Englishes, ELF, English in Asia, corpus linguistics and computer-mediated communication.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9783110522792
Pages: 405
Prices: U.S. $ 34.99