Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language / Edition 1by Seth Lerer
Pub. Date: 04/03/2007
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Seth Lerer's Inventing English is a masterful, engaging history of the English/i>
Why is there such a striking difference between English spelling and English pronunciation? How did our seemingly relatively simple grammar rules develop? What are the origins of regional dialect, literary language, and everyday speech, and what do they have to do with you?
Seth Lerer's Inventing English is a masterful, engaging history of the English language from the age of Beowulf to the rap of Eminem. Many have written about the evolution of our grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, but only Lerer situates these developments in the larger history of English, America, and literature.
Lerer begins in the seventh century with the poet Caedmon learning to sing what would become the earliest poem in English. He then looks at the medieval scribes and poets who gave shape to Middle English. He finds the traces of the Great Vowel Shift in the spelling choices of letter writers of the fifteenth century and explores the achievements of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of 1755 and The Oxford English Dictionary of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He describes the differences between English and American usage and, through the example of Mark Twain, the link between regional dialect and race, class, and gender. Finally, he muses on the ways in which contact with foreign languages, popular culture, advertising, the Internet, and e-mail continue to shape English for future generations.
Each concise chapter illuminates a moment of invention-a time when people discovered a new form of expression or changed the way they spoke or wrote. In conclusion, Lerer wonders whether globalization and technology have turned English into a world language and reflects on what has been preserved and what has been lost. A unique blend of historical and personal narrative, Inventing English is the surprising tale of a language that is as dynamic as the people to whom it belongs.
- Columbia University Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- New Edition
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Table of Contents
Introduction: Finding English, Finding Us
1. Caedmon Learns to Sing: Old English and the Origins of Poetry
2. From Beowulf to Wulfstan: The Language of Old English Literature
3. In This Year: The Politics of Language and the End of Old English
4. From Kingdom to Realm: Middle English in a French World
5. Lord of This Langage: Chaucer's English
6. I Is as Ille a Millere as Are Ye: Middle English Dialects
7. The Great Vowel Shift and the Changing Character of English
8. Chancery, Caxton, and the Making of English Prose
9. I Do, I Will: Shakespeare's English
10. A Universal Hubbub Wild: New Words and Worlds in Early Modern English
11. Visible Speech: The Orthoepists and the Origins of Standard English
12. A Harmless Drudge: Samuel Johnson and the Making of the Dictionary
13. Horrid, Hooting Stanzas: Lexicography and Literature in American English
14. Antses in the Sugar: Dialect and Regionalism in American English
15. Hello, Dude: Mark Twain and the Making of the American Idiom
16. Ready for the Funk: African American English and Its Impact
17. Pioneers Through an Untrodden Forest: The Oxford English Dictionary and its Readers
18. Listening to Private Ryan: War and Language
19. He Speaks in Your Voice: Everybody's English
Appendix. English Sounds and Their Representation
References and Further Reading
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This was my textbook for a college class and I was impressed with how clear and straight-forward the writing is. After being dragged thriugh the desert of traditional textbooks, this was a breath of fresh air! I don't even plan on getting rid of it now that the class is over.
The possibilities of this title caught my eye (ear?) while listening to Professor Lerer discuss it and its subject on C-Span. Reading it proved interesting - he provides a number of pieces of information and discusses a number of topics which I found new or unfamiliar - but it fell short of its promise. First, disclaimers to the contrary, a basic knowledge of linguistics is necessary to appreciate the information it provides. Second, the professor does indeed know his English, but fails repeatedly and annoyingly when he strays into Latin. Enough so that his invitation to sing along with him at the end of his first chapter prompted me to say, 'not if you keep hitting these sour notes.' Third, while he celebrates the changing character of modern English and invites his reader to do the same, his text is a standard popularization of the language in which he teaches, reflecting little of what he claims is going on. Perhaps because his book would otherwise never have seen print? Fourth and last, like many of his academic contemporaries, he shows himself ready and eager to question or challenge the mental worlds in which his predecessors thought about the language, but unable to question his own, e.g., his assumption about the fluidity of the language which cannot be 'regulated' by anyone. All in all, the book is an interesting way to pick up information about the history of English if you're unfamiliar with it, less so if you are and are familiar with the wider field of linguistics.