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Do You Speak American? Hardcover – December 28, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0385511988 ISBN-10: 0385511981 Edition: First Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The English language is not a thing but a process, not an archaic institution but an experiment that is constantly evolving and re-invigorating itself. According to language experts MacNeil and Cran, no one should understand this better than Americans who, steeped in a culture of diversity, are uniquely equipped to appreciate the exciting, colorful and democratic nature of language. Although not all Americans appreciate this vibrancy-many prominent linguists are found bemoaning the state of English, horrified that people still do not understand the difference between who and whom-the evidence of an ever-changing language is indisputable, from the New York Times printing the word "sleazoid" in a column to the Oxford English Dictionary adding "blogger" to its latest edition. To better understand the diversity of American English, the authors embark on a fascinating journey across the United States, studying the conversations of Boston natives and rural Texans, inner-city blacks and valley-girl teenagers. The result is an exhilarating celebration of the ways that Americans express themselves and a testament to the indestructible power of language, whether one is using "correct" grammar or not. Traditional linguists might not approve of the way modern Americans are talking, but they will never be able to stop the English language from moving forward and, as this book successfully proves, there is nothing more American than that.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Immigration, migration, class distinction, and mass media are among the tectonic forces shaping and reshaping the language we don't speak with anything approaching universality around North America. The authors take readers on an accessible, energetic, and insightful trip along the Eastern seaboard, down South, out to California, and to some cities in between in the company of several academic linguistics folks who offer explanations that readers don't necessarily see coming. Black English and the role of Spanish in contemporary America each get separate chapters. Americanisms like "beatnik," regionalisms like "pop," and localisms like "yinz" are admired as gems our constantly evolving language continues to press into being, and how American language is passed between generations–or fails to pass–is brought to light. Teens who already love language will take to this book with enthusiasm. Students who aren't in the habit of thinking critically about why we talk the way we do can be introduced to it through the pieces most relevant to them. And there's something relevant to everyone here, whether you talk with or without "r"s or sound just like the kids a thousand miles down the road.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; First Edition edition (December 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385511981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385511988
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,830,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Pleasurable and informative!
Ed. researcher
It was more interesting than other linguistics books; I would say that it is a good read for a casual reader as well.
McNeil and Cran even demolish the idea that these rules have even been around for a long time.
Jean E. Pouliot

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on April 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Do You Speak American?" is another fine contribution by Robert MacNeil and William Cran, coauthors of "The Story of English". As this is a companion book to the televised series this recent offering does not stand alone but serves as the program's enhancement.

Those of us who have followed Mr. MacNeil through his many journeys around the world in search of the ways English is enriched will find worthy chapters in "Do You Speak American?" Highlighted areas include the South, Hispanics and Black English....these three chapters encompass close to half of the book. Mr. MacNeil delivers his findings in his usual straightforward, buttoned-down Nova Scotia style. That isn't to say there isn't any humor...there is...but his earnestness keeps everything on track.

My disappointment in "Do You Speak American?" is that it doesn't cover enough ground. While "The Story of English" was a major undertaking, this seems puny by comparison. It was as if the book was written almost in haste to accommodate the tv program (which, by the way, is better than the book). The north and the midwest get far less attention so the book has an unbalanced feeling to it. That said, the portions that the authors delve into most carry a certain fascination and the narrative style to which we have been accustomed is as flawless as ever. The final chapter is an odd one, but an important computers take on their own "language" and how that affects us. Some of the best (and most humorous) paragraphs in the book deal with the speech-recognition system in BMWs and the reaction of owners to it.

Perhaps Mr. MacNeil and Mr. Cran will do a follow-up to "Do You Speak American?" I hope they do. There's so much more to discover and these coauthors are just the men to continue looking into the many facets of "American English".
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on January 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Language is not constant. It is continually evolving with cultural and ethnic influences impacting a region's speech. Authors Robert MacNeil and William Cran have examined the English language through interviewing native speakers and observing the verbal interactions of people across the country.

I found Do You Speak American? fascinating. As a native speaker from the Midwest, it always surprises me when I'm traveling that people can pinpoint where I'm from. Being from the Midwest, I always thought that I didn't have an "accent." Wrong! My speech patterns, class, choice of words, word order, pronunciation (vowel changes) and perhaps the media's affect on speech, give me away.

The authors' journey across the country, studying regional conversations, is interesting and enlightening and offers explanations that might surprise the reader. I particularly enjoyed the sections on teaching computers to speak American; the one on Hispanic immigration and its impact on American language; and the section on bad-mouthing black English.

While Do You Speak American? is not an in-depth study, it is a wonderful beginning for those who are interested in the subject.

Armchair Interviews says: If you enjoy words and are curious about how Americans speak, you'll enjoy Do You Speak American?
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By James Neville on July 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I read this book because I am fascinated by words and dialects and how (some) linguistics experts can tell where you grew up just from the way you speak.

"Do You Speak American" satisfied my craving to learn more about dialect in the United States but it went WAY beyond my expectations.

In addition to presenting and discussing a FASCINATING map of major dialect regions and changes in the U.S., this book addresses two key current social issues: The (unfounded) phobia that Spanish will take over from English as the dominant language of the United States, and the (still valid) issue that even as "African American English" contributes to our culture, it separates many kids from economic mainstream access through linquistic prejudice (e.g., "if you sound like THAT you must be DUMB")

The book doesn't stop there but continues addressing MORE fascinating topics including the origins of "Valley Girl/Surfer Dude" California dialects (like, totally!) and computer speech recognition efforts by BMW and Microsoft.

I found the overall tone of the book UPBEAT. The research findings and interpretations presented show it's quite possible and quite HUMAN to be "bilingual" in DIALECTS as well as languages. So that we can maintain our language-based identity (where we grew up) AND claim our stake in the mainstream economy.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on January 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
With characteristic wit, intellect and open-mindedness, Robert McNeil and William Cran explore the protean version of English used in America. Though they give ample time to the prescriptivist side of the argument (the side concerned with enforcing rules and determining standards of proper usage), they are clearly more in the descriptivist camp, fascinated by the way the language is actually used.

The times are on their side. Informal language, once kept out of dictionaries and standards guides by the educated elite, is rushing into normal use at breakneck speed. These days, a word is hardly coined before it has been snatched up by major media outlets and put into print. And rushed out of print almost as quickly. Last week, I heard the word "gnarly" used to described a snowstorm. My teenage son was appalled. "When was the last time you heard anyone say 'gnarly'?" he asked incredulously. Mind you, this word is all of 10 years old, and it is already considered passé.

McNeil and Cran describe the way American language standards are affected by the media, social trends, technology, the tastes of elites, regional accents, racial history and even civic pride. Yet they claim that accent leveling --the homogenizing of regional speech patterns -- is largely a myth. In spite of the disappearance of certain isolated regional accents and vocabulary -- like those of Down East Maine -- some accents are actually growing in strength. Pittsbughers, for instance, are consciously proud of their distinctive pronunciations, a fact that keeps them (the pronunciations) alive. Too, most people (including this writer) don't usually consider themselves to have accents at all. Our own speech is "normal"; it's those other folks who have accents!
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