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Review of  A Handbook of Varieties of English

Reviewer: Monika S Schmid
Book Title: A Handbook of Varieties of English
Book Author: Bernd Kortmann Edgar W. W. Schneider Kate Burridge Rajend Mesthrie Clive Upton
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.1740

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Date: Wed, 01 Jun 2005 11:29:38 +0200
From: Monika S. Schmid
Subject: Handbook of Varieties of English

EDITORS: Kortmann, Bernd; Schneider, Edgar W; Burridge, Kate; Mesthrie,
Rajend; Upton, Clive
TITLE: A Handbook of Varieties of English
SUBTITLE: A Multimedia Reference Tool
YEAR: 2004
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter

Monika S. Schmid, English Department, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The


To get straight to the point: The _Handbook of Varieties of English_ is a
dream come true, especially so for those of us whose teaching
responsibilities include courses on varieties of English around the world.
As someone who belongs to this category, I have over the past years spent
many weeks in libraries, scanning monographs and collected volumes for
adequate teaching materials. Every year, I became become more concerned
that Wells' excellent 1982 overview, while a wonderfully useful work, is
getting somewhat outdated. If I had been asked to draw up a wishlist
describing my ideal teaching tool, I would have fantasized about something
comprehensive yet consistent; something covering both phonological and
grammatical features; something with multimedia support and audio data
from the described varieties (preferably in a comparable format);
something treating established as well as colonial and post-colonial
varieties; and something I could both teach from and point my students to
for their essays and presentations.

The _Handbook of Varieties of English_ is all that. In the words of the
editors, its aim is to provide "comprehensive up-to-date accounts of the
salient phonological and grammatical properties of the varieties of
English around the world" and to supply the linguistic community with "[r]
eliable structural information in a somewhat standardized format" (p. 1).
The editors have set their sights high - and managed to achieve them


The Handbook comes in two volumes, one on phonology and one on morphology
and syntax. After a general introduction (Kortmann & Schneider) and a
general list of references, both volumes fall into four parts, each
containing between 11 and 18 descriptions of individual varieties (for a
full list of the chapters and their authors see the Appendix below): The
British Isles (eds. Kortmann & Upton), The Americas and the Caribbean (ed.
Schneider), The Pacific and Australasia (eds. Burridge & Kortmann) and
Africa, South and Southeast Asia (ed. Meshtrie). Both volumes end with
synopses by the section editors, summarizing "the most striking properties
of the sets of varieties of English spoken in the individual world
regions" (4) and a global synopsis (Vol. I: Schneider, Vol. II: Kortmann &
Szmrecsanyi). The volumes are accompanied by a Multimedia Reference Tool
(CD-ROM), of which more below. Notable is the wide-ranging inclusion of
second-language varieties and English-based pidgins and creoles, which
account for more than half of the varieties treated.

The default (and, to the reader, most useful) case is for any one
particular variety to be treated in both volumes, generally but by no
means in all cases by the same author(s). In this respect, the section
edited by Meshtrie is clearly the most consistent, while the Americas and
Caribbean chapters (regrettably, perhaps) exhibit substantial variation
across the two volumes.

The list of contributors (see Appendix) can only be called impressive,
which makes it even more astonishing that a work to which more than a
hundred scholars have contributed manages such overall consistency both in
the structure and in the quality of the presentations.


One of the most striking characteristics of the _Handbook_ is its
understanding of what constitutes a variety of English. While virtually
all dialectologists and sociologists currently would pay lip service to
the idea that there is no one inherently and linguistically privileged
standard variety, most collections and writings about any number of
varieties then proceed to take the standard as their point of departure,
particularly when the focus is on the British Isles. Here, however, the
structure of the sections follows a strictly geographical order, in the
case of the British Isles, north-to-south, with Received Pronunciation
appearing very much towards the end of the section. Similarly, it is
unusual for varieties of English which originated several centuries ago
(as the ones spoken, for example, in the British Isles) to be put on a par
with more recent, e.g. (post)colonial, varieties, as is the case here.

In order to maintain consistency of information across chapters, all
authors were asked to address the following issues in their contributions:

Vol I:
- phonological systems
- phonetic realization(s) and (phonotactic) distributions of a selection
of phonemes
- specific phonological processes
- lexical distribution
- prosodic features
- intonation patterns
- observations/generalizations on the basis of lexical sets
Vol II:
- tense - aspect - modality
- auxiliaries
- negation
- relativization
- complementation
- other subordination phenomena
- agreement
- noun phrase structure
- pronominal systems
- word order
- selected salient features of the morphological paradigms

How the editors managed to make all their authors stick to these
guidelines is a marvel, but stick to it they did, making the overall
appearance of the volumes quite amazingly consistent. In addition, most
contributions, while focussing on the above features, contain an
introductory section providing information on the socio-historical
background of the variety under investigation.

This in itself would have constituted a phenomenally helpful and useful
work. However, it is the synopses at the end of both volumes and the
Multimedia CD-ROM accompanying the books where the true power of this tool
becomes most evident: here, the worldwide distribution of variables is at
the reader's fingertips. Both focus on the systematicity of certain
features across a wide range of fairly disparate language varieties. This
has been visualized in an especially handy format by means of interactive
maps on the CD-ROM. Here, a comprehensive collection of 179 phonological
and 76 grammatical features are available for selection, upon which they
will appear on the world map as red (normal or widespread distribution of
the selected feature), yellow (feature occurs occasionally) or grey
(feature not documented). This allows the user, for example, to select a
monophthongal realization of the FACE diphthong and see at a glance that
this is really very widespread, especially in Central Africa, the
Caribbean, and in Asian varieties, while _at_ as a relative particle is
restricted to occasional use in Northern British and Appalachian English.

These maps are accompanied by a large collection of audio samples in three
categories: free data (for 39 varieties), a reading passage (for 36
varieties which, in some cases, has been varied slightly) and lexical sets
(for 38 varieties, some of which however are incomplete). The
Intercontinental Vowel Comparison feature, furthermore, makes it possible
to select for example the lexical set STRUT, click on the places on the
world map for which the data are available, and hear it rendered
consecutively in Ghanaian English, New York English and Standard Scottish
English. (Campus licenses for the Multimedia Tool are available to
libraries, I am informed on the Mouton de Gruyter website - price on

It is difficult within the confines of 2,500 words to describe just how
comprehensive and useful this tool is. Suffice it to say that this is the
kind of reference work that comes along maybe once in a generation, and
will revolutionize the ways in which we and our students can work with the
English language.

If one were forced to pick something to criticize, the helpfulness of the
index might be somewhat questionable. One cannot but wonder how many
readers will actually want to look up the close to 100 instances of CURE.
On the other hand, for example, there is no entry for Aitken's Law
(although the same phenomenon does feature under Scottish Vowel Length

Furthermore, it is probably inevitable that an interactive tool, such as
the CD-ROM, could not have been as stringently edited as the linear
printed text, so there are some points which might merit addressing in
future editions. For one thing, the user manual (available at www.mouton- is less than helpful to the user who encounters trouble and
turns to it for help -- it bears, in fact, a slightly suspicious
resemblance to a somewhat casually edited publishing proposal. The
chapter 'Basic Concepts', which is referred to at several points both in
the manual and in the section 'Preliminaries' on the CD-ROM, also seems to
be missing (although it is represented in a very rudimentary version in
the free demo on the publisher's website). Under the heading 'Audio
Samples - Maps', the reader is referred to the online edition of the CD-
ROM - accompanied, however, by a link which does not work. On the
publisher's website, I could only find the demo version. I am informed by
the publishers that they are working on a full online edition, but whether
owners of the _Handbook_ will be able to get free access, I don't know.

The last point of criticism, although outside the control of the editors,
is the fact that the exorbitant price of the Handbook will make it
impossible for most of us ever to own what, really, should be on the
bookshelf of every linguist working on the English language and its
(contact) varieties. It is a great pity that such an outstanding work
could not have been more competitively priced. Maybe we can hope for a
more affordable paperback edition in the future? In the meantime, if your
own budget does not stretch to the _Handbook_, make sure your library gets
it. If they only buy one book this year, this should definitely be the one.

APPENDIX - Contents
General intro (Kortmann/Schneider); Vol II: idem
Introduction British Isles (Bernd Kortmann/Clive Upton); Vol II: idem
English in Orkney/Shetland (Gunnel Melchers); Vol II: idem
Scottish English (Jane Stuart-Smith); Vol II: (Jim Miller)
Irish English (Raymond Hickey); Vol II: (Markku Filppula)
Welsh English (Robert Penhallurick); Vol II: idem
English dialects in the North of England (Joan Beal); Vol II: idem
English West Midlands (Urszula Clark); Vol II: -
East Anglia (Peter Trudgill); Vol II: idem
South of England (Ulrike Altendorf/Dominic Watt)
-; Vol II: Southwest (Susanne Wagner)
-; Vol II: Southeast (Lieselotte Anderwald)
Channel Islands English (Heinrich Ramisch); Vol II: -
RP (Clive Upton); Vol II: -
British Creole (Peter L. Patrick); Vol II: (Mark Sebba)
Introduction: Americas/Caribbean (Edgar W. Schneider); Vol II: idem
Standard American (William A. Kretzschmer); Vol II: -
-; Vol II: Colloquial American English (Thomas E. Murray/Beth Lee Simon)
New England (Naomi Nagy/Julie Roberts); Vol II: -
New York, Philadelphia and other northern cities (Matthew J. Gordon); Vol
II: -
Rural Southern white accents (Erik R. Thomas); Vol II: -
Urban South (Jan Tillery/Guy Bailey); Vol II: -
-; Vol II: Appalachian English (Michael B. Montgomery)
-; Vol II: Rural and ethnic varieties in the Southeast (Walt Wolfram)
West and Midwest (Matthew J. Gordon); Vol II: -
English in Canada (Charles Boberg); Vol II: -
Newfoundland English (Sandra Clarke); Vol II: idem
African American Vernacular English (Walter F. Edwards); Vol II: Urban
African American Vernacular English (Walt Wolfram)
-; Vol II: Earlier African American English (Alexander Kautzsch)
Gullah (Tracey L. Weldon); Vol II: (Salikoko S. Mufwene)
Cajun Vernacular English (Sylvie Dubois/Barbara M. Horvath); Vol II: -
Chicano English (Otto Santa Ana/Robert Bayley); Vol II: (Robert
Bayley/Otto Santa Ana)
Bahamian English (Becky Childs/Walt Wolfram); Vol II: (Jeffrey
Reaser/Benjamin Torbert)
Jamaican Creole/Jamaican English (Hubert Devonish/Otelemate G. Harry); Vol
II: (Peter L. Patrick)
Eastern Caribbean English-derived language varieties (Michael Aceto); Vol
II: idem
Bajan (Renée Blake); Vol II: -
Creoles of Trinidad and Tobago (Valerie Youssef/Winford James); Vol II:
(Winford James/Valerie Youssef)
Surinamese creoles (Norval Smith/Vinije Haabo); Vol II: (Donald
Winford/Bettina Migge)
-; Vol II: Belize and other central American Varieties (Genevieve Escure)
Introduction: Pacific and Australasia (Kate Burridge/Bernd Kortmann); Vol
II: idem
New Zealand English (Laurie Bauer/Paul Warren); Vol II: (Marianne
Hundt/Jennifer Hay/Elizabeth Gordon)
Regional and social differences in New Zealand (Elizabeth Gordon/Margaret
Maclagan); Vol II: -
Maori English (Paul Warren/Laurie Bauer); Vol II: -
Australian English (Barbara M. Horvath); Vol II: (Peter Collins/Pam Peters)
-; Vol II: Australian Vernacular English (Andrew Pawley)
-; Vol II: Hypocoristics in Australian English (Jane Simpson)
Regional characteristics of Australian English (David Bradley); Vol II: -
Australian creoles and Aboriginal English (Ian G. Malcom); Vol II: idem
Bislama English (Terry Crowley); Vol II: idem
Solomon Islands Pijin English (Christine Jourdan/Rachel Selbach); Vol II:
(Christine Jourdan)
Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea (Geoff P. Smith); Vol II: idem
Hawai'i Creole (Kent Sakoda/Jeff Siegel); Vol II: idem
Fiji English (Jan Tent/France Mugler); Vol II: (France Mugler/Jan Tent)
Norfolk Island Pitcairn English (John Ingram/Peter Muhlhausler); Vol II:
Introduction Varieties of English in Africa and South and Southeast Asia
(Rajend Meshtrie); Vol II: idem
Nigerian English (Ulrike B. Gut); Vol II: (M. A. Alo/Rajend Meshtrie)
Nigerian Pidgin English (Ben Elugbe); Vol II: (Nicholas Faraclas)
Ghanaian English (Magnus Huber); Vol II: (Magnus Huber/Kari Dako)
Ghanaian Pidgin English (Magnus Huber); Vol II: idem
Liberian Settler English (John Victor Singler); Vol II: idem
Cameroon English(Augustin Simo Bobda); Vol II: (Paul Mbangwana)
Cameroon Pidgin English (Kamtok) (Thaddeus Menang); Vol II: (Miriam Ayafor)
East African English (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) (Josef Schmied); Vol II:
White South African English (Sean Bowerman); Vol II: idem
Black South African English (Bertus van Rooy); Vol II: (Rajend Meshtrie)
Indian South African English (Rajend Meshtrie); Vol II: idem
Cape Flats English (Peter Finn); Vol II: (Kay McCormick)
St. Helena English (Sheila Wilson); Vol II: (Sheila Wilson/Rajend Meshtrie)
Indian English (Ravinder Gargesh); Vol II: (Rakesh M. Bhatt)
-; Vol II: Butler (Priya Hosali)
Pakistani English (Ahmar Mahboob/Nadra Huma Ahmar); Vol II: (Ahmar Mahboob)
Singapore English (Lionel Wee); Vol II: idem
Malaysian English (Loga Baskaran); Vol II: idem
Philippine English (Ma. Lourdes G. Tayao); Vol II: -
Synopsis (Clive Upton); Vol II: (Bernd Kortmann)
Synopsis (Edgar W. Schneider)
Synopsis (Kate Burridge)
Synopsis (Rajend Meshtrie)
Global synopsis (Edgar W. Schneider); Vol II: (Bernd Kortmann/Benedikt


Monika S. Schmid graduated in translation of literature in English, French
and German from the Heinrich-Heine Universität Duesseldorf in 1996 and was
awarded her PhD (summa cum laude) in English linguistics from that same
institution in 2000. Since August 2000, she has been a lecturer in English
linguistics (specialty area language variation) and researcher (specialty
area: first language attrition) at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Her
recent publications include a monograph and a collected volume on first
language attrition, published with John Benjamins, Amsterdam. In August
2005, she will be co-organizing the 2nd International Conference on First
Language Attrition at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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