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Review of  The History of English

Reviewer: Katarzyna Sowka-Pietraszewska
Book Title: The History of English
Book Author: Stephan Gramley
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 24.1639

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This accessibly written book is intended for undergraduates. It contains 13 chapters, of which the first part (chapters 1-6) outlines the external history of English up to the Early Modern English period, while the second (7-13) sketches the global spread of English.

Chapter 1, ‘The Origins of English (before 450)’, briefly discusses the origins of human language and the genetic relations that may exist between languages, introducing the family-tree model, the notion of proto-language and the Indo-European family, and indicating the position of the Germanic within Indo-European. Next, the author distinguishes between internal and external change. The section ‘Changes in Germanic before the invasions of Britain’ focuses on pronunciation (Grimm’s Law, Verner’s Law), grammar and vocabulary. As a next step, Latin borrowings, the result of close contact between Germanic speakers and Romans, at the beginning of the first century, are concisely illustrated. The chapter closes with a section on the Germanic migrations.

Chapter 2, ‘Old English: early Germanic Britain (450-700)’, reviews the cultural and linguistic influence of the Celts and the Romans on pre-Anglo-Saxon England and English. This chapter presents subsequent Germanic incursions and the formation of the first Germanic kingdoms. Next, the main features of the Old English (OE) alphabet, spelling, pronunciation, and some selected aspects of grammar are discussed and followed by some textual analysis. For more data on OE grammar the reader is referred to the online companion. Unfortunately, the sections on ‘phonological terms’ and ‘case’ are unfinished yet. The section on the Christianization of England includes an introduction to the runic alphabet. The chapter closes with a section on regional varieties, showing the divergence of English dialects through an analysis of two versions of Cædmon’s Hymn.

After outlining three stages of Viking incursions, Chapter 3, ‘Old English: the Viking invasions and their consequences (700-1066/1100)’, discusses the significance of the contact with the Vikings on (i) vocabulary; (ii) pronunciation, (iii) inflection and (iv) syntax. In the section on inflection, among the examples of the Norse-influenced changes one would expect, we find an interesting presentation of Burnley’s (1992:416) and Samuels’ (1972:144ff) influential approaches to the origin of the Modern English (ModE) pronoun ‘she’. In syntax the author attributes the rise of complex forms (i.e. perfect, progressive, the ‘will’ future, ‘do’ as an auxiliary) to contact with Old Norse. Arguments for and against Middle English as a creole are reviewed next. Bailey and Maroldt’s (1977) arguments for this position are followed by Thomason and Kaufman’s (1998) discussion, which is less favourable for the hypothesis. The final sections comment on the rise of the West Saxon written standard.

Chapter 4, ‘Middle English: the non-standard period (1066/1100-1350)’, starts with an overview of the presumed motives for the Norman Conquest and continues with the linguistic effects of Norman French - English contact before standardization of the latter. The part on linguistic influence tracks the changes in pronunciation, including phonemicization, discussing and illustrating, for example, the occurrence of voiced fricatives /v,ð,z/ and the rules of Middle English (ME) vowel lengthening, shortening and monophthongization. The section on spelling catalogues various regional differences. The bulk of this section shows changes in grammar addressing, among other things, the development of progressive, the perfect, modal auxiliaries, the passive, negation and concord. This part closes by covering changes in vocabulary, discussing the massive lexical influence of French on ME. The final section raises the question of ME creolization again, this time with regard to Norman French influence. The last section provides interesting examples of the dialectal diversity of ME.

Chapter 5, ‘Middle English: the emergence of Standard English (1350-1500)’, starts with a brief discussion of social and political movements of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that had a major impact on the changing status of English, in particular the growing popularity of English and decreasing importance of French. A number of events that influenced the rise of Standard English are presented, such as the growth of the importance of the lower class, the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, the rise of London speech, the Caxton printing press and Chancery English. The features of Chancery Standard are addressed in some detail, for example the pronouns ‘you’/’thou’, the pronoun ‘one’, the relative pronoun, periphrastic structures including the periphrastic ‘do’, and word order changes. The section on vocabulary outlines the major changes in the ME word hoard, attributed mainly to the influence of Romance languages. Inkhorn terms are briefly introduced but a more extensive discussion is reserved for Chapter 6. ME non-standard and regional variations are illustrated by reference to texts from English and Scottish literature.

Chapter 6, ‘The Early Modern English period (1500-1700)’, links the major social, political, cultural and demographic changes in sixteenth and seventeenth century England to language history. The section on Early Modern English (EModE) includes an interesting discussion of dialect levelling among migrants to London. Moreover, this section lends a typological perspective to the changes taking place in EModE. The section on regulation and codification discusses the most significant changes in spelling, vocabulary and pronunciation and sketches out the GVS. The section on grammar and morphology is well-developed again, presenting a wide variety of changes, such as the spread of ‘do’-periphrasis, periphrastic expression of aspect, voice and tense, the subjunctive, modal verbs, and the pronoun ‘you’. Regional variety in EModE is illustrated by reference to texts from the South of England and Scotland.

Chapter 7, ‘The spread of English (since the late sixteenth century)’, begins with an overview of the political, social, economic, and linguistic situation in Europe in the seventeenth century, and points out its effect on the beginning of British colonial expansion. The areas of English diffusion are presented neatly in three charts: (i) The spread of English from Britain; (ii) The spread of English in and from America; (iii) The spread of English from Jamaica. The concept of General English (GenE) is introduced as a designation including both StE and non-standard English, ‘but excluding the traditional dialects and the English pidgins and creoles’ (p.374). The author uses two schemes to present differences within GenE. First, he uses Kachru’s well-known model of three concentric circles, along with his own ‘Two-dimensional model of English showing status variation, as well as, GenE and traditional English’. Unfortunately, it takes a few readings to truly understand this intricate model. In the chapter, there is a good, detailed introduction of the process of the transplantation of English under conditions of migration and language imposition. Definitions of English as a native language (ENL), English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL) are also offered and precisely described. The last part recognizes the mechanisms of social interaction as the consequence of the globalization of English and shows examples of bilingualism, code switching and borrowing in English, as a native language, and English as a second language. A presentation of pidgin and creole English communities in West Africa and the Caribbean followed by a presentation of the societies that speak English as a Foreign Language close this chapter.

Chapter 8, ‘English in Great Britain and Ireland (since 1700)’, gives an account of the most important demographic developments as well as the revolution in transportation, industrialization, urbanization, education and the media, and discusses their impact on the linguistic situation in Britain, Ireland and Scotland. The discussion of attempts to codify English points out events, such as Swift’s proposal of the establishment of academy or the advent of grammars and dictionaries. A concise analysis of changes in vocabulary is followed by a section on recent grammatical developments. After a short theoretical introduction to lexicalization and grammaticalization, this section revisits the development of modal verbs and closely examines their development in EModE. The section on pronunciation outlines the emergence of Received Pronunciation and reviews phonological changes including yod-dropping, the occurrence of T-glottalization in British English, L-vocalization and the appearance of an intervocalic alveolar flap in General American. It is interesting to read about the vocalic chain-shifts, including in Cockney. The attempts to reform ModE spelling are also briefly summarized. Traditional dialects and the standard English of Scotland and vernacular Irish English are concisely presented. The chapter closes with a presentation of the diversity of urban English due to migration, e.g., Estuary English, British Black English, or Chinese - English.

Chapter 9, ‘English pidgins, English creoles, and English (since the early seventeenth century)’, includes a large section giving details of British colonialism and imperialism and their linguistic consequences. There is an interesting and detailed examination of English-influenced pidgins and creoles. A considerable part of the section is devoted to the Creole continuum illustrated in Guyanese and Jamaican Creoles. The last part is an inspiring review of four approaches to the origin of creoles. Monogenesis theory, the theory of parallel development, the influence of the superstratum theory and the innate bioprogram theory are summarized and followed by a critical analysis. The chapter closes with textual examples showing linguistic differences in the two major English creole areas, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Chapter 10, ‘English in North America (since the early seventeen century)’, starts with a topic usually overlooked in other books on the history of English: the earliest evidence of the contacts between the pilgrims and the Indians and their linguistic consequences, as reflected in American English (AmE) vocabulary. The further development of AmE and motives for divergence from British English (BrE) are approached from two perspectives. The section on the colonial period recognises the importance of dialect levelling (koinézation) by early settlers; while the post independence period witnessed some conscious efforts to distinguish AmE from BrE. This section summarizes movements towards the standardization of AmE. The effects on vocabulary, spelling, grammar, morphology, and pronunciation are discussed and interspersed with interesting examples. The discussion of English in North America rounds out with the presentation of some widespread forms of non-standard GenE in America, regional varieties (the South, the West, and Canadian English) and some ethnic varieties within AmE (American Indian English, immigrant English, African American Vernacular English, and Chicago English).

Chapter 11, ‘English in the ENL communities of the Southern Hemisphere (since 1788)’, begins with a presentation of socio-historical background and events that prompted the citizens of the British Isles to emigrate to the Southern Hemisphere colonies (Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand). A few remarks on standard and non-standard English in the colonies are given. A comparative approach to the grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary of the English of the Southern Hemisphere points out many features they share and comments on those that developed individually in each language. The chapter, moreover, offers a discussion of non-standard grammar, continuations of GVS in Southern Hemisphere ENL and vocabulary. The latter section discusses borrowings, loan words and loan translations, as well as some examples of folk etymology. It also illustrates numerous productive word formation processes and lexical-semantic change in Southern Hemisphere ENL. The chapter concludes with a section on the regional varieties of non-standard Cape Flats English, South African English, Māori-influenced English and Aboriginal English. Each section includes several textual examples.

In Chapter 12, ‘English in the ESL countries of Africa and Asia (since 1795)’, a concise definition of English as a Second Language is followed by a review of the colonial history of the ESL countries (West Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific). Features of phonology, grammar, and vocabulary in ESL spoken in West Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia are presented contrastively. This analysis aims to point out some individual linguistic developments in ESL spoken in these areas. An interesting presentation of the influence of substratum on the pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and pragmatics of ESL is presented in the following section. The closing section examines the identitarian function of Second Language variety of English.

In Chapter 13, ‘Global English (since 1945)’, the roots of Global English are identified in ‘the politically, economically, and culturally dominant position of the United States and Great Britain throughout the ModE period and in the momentum that English has generated in the media’ (p.361). The standard and non-standard English used in media is exemplified and followed by a critical review of modern approaches to Global English. A discussion of the identitarian role of the multiplicity of ‘Englishes’ closes the chapter.

Given increasing interest in the history of English in the period from the early seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries when English was taken from the British Isles to overseas locations, this book is a vital resource. In fact, Gramley’s textbook is a masterful survey of English language history, recognizing different processes of change and dealing thoroughly with the mechanisms of social interaction which affected English and gave rise to its varieties. The author has not only achieved his aim of providing basic reading for undergraduates, but also provides fine reading for students of undergraduate courses on, for example, sociolinguistics, language change and the global varieties of English.

This is a readable, well-organized and stimulating textbook. Each chapter closes with (i) a conclusive summary and a number of study questions, half of which revise social and cultural background and the other half summarize linguistic background; (ii) a section with author’s suggestions for further reading where the recommended textbooks are concisely surveyed and invite individual research.

The book includes extensive background material (about eighty texts in the book, numerous maps and illustrations). The 2005 IPA chart and a glossary of basic terms used in the book as well as a list of references are provided at the end of the book. The book comes with a supporting website (accessed February 23, 2013). The website contains extensive supplementary material. However, some sections, e.g. the interactive timeline presentation and Chapter 2, are not finished yet.

I am currently using this book in my undergraduate History of the English Language class. This choice was motivated mainly by the fact that, so far, I have found no other textbooks that dedicate so much the space to the historical spread of English beyond the British realm. Besides, this book is not only an invaluable textbook for the student of the history of English, but also a source of inspiring questions prone to motivate individuals to pursue their own research in the field.

Bailey, C.J.N. and K. Maroldt (1977) “The French Lineage of English,” In: J.M. Meisel (ed.) Langues en contact -- Pidgins -- Creoles -- Language in Contact. Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 21-53.

Burnley, D. (ed.) (1992) The History of English Language. A Source Book. London: Longman
Kachru, B.B. (1985) “Standard, Codification and Sociolinguistic Realism: The English Language in the Outer Cycle,” In: R. Quirk and H.G. Widdowson (eds.) English in the World: Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures. Cambridge: CUP, 11-30.

Samuels, M.L. (1972) Linguistic Evolution with Special Reference to English. Cambridge: CUP.

Thomason, S.G. and T. Kaufman (1998) Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Katarzyna Sowka-Pietraszewska teaches History of the English Language and Introduction to Historical Linguistics at the University of Wrocław in Poland. Her research interests include historical linguistics, diachronic syntax and semantics. She has been currently working on a project on changes in argument structure of ditransitive verbs in Old and Middle English.

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