- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 10, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 023113794X
- ISBN-13: 978-0231137942
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #661,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language 0th Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Lerer is not just a scholar (he's a professor of humanities at Stanford and the man behind the Teaching Company's audio and videotape series The History of the English Language); he's also a fan of English—his passion is evident on every page of this examination of how our language came to sound—and look—as it does and how words came to have their current meanings. He writes with friendly reverence of the masters—Chaucer, Milton, Johnson, Shakespeare, Twain—illustrating through example the monumental influence they had on the English we speak and write today (Shakespeare alone coined nearly 6,000 words). Anecdotes illustrate how developments in the physical world (technological advances, human migration) gave rise to new words and word-forms. With the invention of the telephone, for instance, a neutral greeting was required to address callers whose gender and social rank weren't known. America minted "hello" (derived from the maritime "ahoy"), and soon Twain enshrined the term in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Whether it's Lerer's close examination of the earliest surviving poem in English (the seventh-century Caedmon's Hymn) or his fresh perspective on Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the book percolates with creative energy and will please anyone intrigued by how our richly variegated language came to be. (Apr.)
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Why doesn't anyone speak English anymore? As he responds to this frequently asked question, Lerer challenges the notion that English was once a set of carefully preserved forms inherited from linguistically correct ancestors. From seventh-century Northumbrian farmers wrapping their tongues around words borrowed from Viking invaders to late-twentieth-century media executives sponsoring word pranks to promote MTV episodes, English speakers have always adapted their idioms to fit current needs. By revisiting pivotal points of language transformation, Lerer clarifies the ways English users have rewoven the fabric of language. Readers hear, for instance, how Wulfstan forged new Anglo-Saxon words in the white heat of his eleventh-century sermons, and they see how sixteenth-century printers turned a wilderness of speech into a cultivated garden of print. And what reader will not relish time spent with Mark Twain as he grafts onto the language new expressions still as raw as the American frontier? Lerer explains language changes so lucidly and illustrates the process with such engaging anecdotes that nonspecialists will join scholars in praising this remarkable linguistic investigation. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
Just that I found the book to be extremely readable, very exacting, very interesting from its historic and modern social perspective (and insights), and incredibly human.
From its interesting contrasting of Anglian from Saxon dialects, to its description of 21st century ethnic speech, it keeps the reader informed and fascinated. Each chapter could be read independently of the others.
I have long been interested in the subject of English language history, and found this to be concise, eloquent and inspiring.
Lerer has great passion for his topic and a gift for delivering information. While there is considerable technical content, it is incorporated effortlessly and backed up with a glossary and appendices. Citations from Old and Middle English literature are followed immediately by translations. With less than 300 pages, Lerer has to leap from lily pad to lily pad in time to show how the language grew with expanding human experience and was influenced by historical acts, but he seems to hit all the key moments: Caedmon in the 7th century wrapping his consonant-dense bluntish language around Christian concepts; chroniclers documenting daily lives and events; King Alfred organizing a nation state; the Norman Conquest introducing French and a language of court apart from a language of the countryside; Chaucer seizing on the internationalism of King Richard's reign; the Great Vowel Shift; Shakespeare inventing our modern language; orthographers attempting to corral it; American colonists consciously shaping it their way; and those who have continued to use it to interpret experience and communicate life, influenced by technology, warfare, politics and globalization.Read more ›
I am American, speak several languages and teach English in a foreign country. However I did not study linguistics or Eng. Hist. at school, so while I have a reasonable grasp of language and language quirks and workings, not an actual expert on those subjects.
Then one day I got interested in English, the history of the language, and linguistics, really bit by a bug, and went out and got all sorts of books on the subjects. This was one of those books. And it is the one I least recommend. I had to force myself to read all the way to the 3rd-to-last chapter, at which point I could take no more. It is not too technical, no. Just not well done. The author himself may be a really interesting guy, that's the shame of it. This book is just not well organized.
As it says in its description, it is not an overview of the whole history, but a focusing in on a few points in the history. Each chapter goes into detail on one period, or event, and the chapters do not link together as a story, they are stand-alone essays. This in itself is not a bad thing. However in this book very few of the chapters were very good. There was one or two near the beginning of the book about the relations between French and English that were very interesting and well done, and I almost thought of giving it 2 stars for that reason, but have decided to stick with a strict standard.
Of the 10 or more books I have read on this subject in the last few months, and the ones that would be similar in topic to Inventing English, I recommend The Story of English, from the US tv series, and the Stories of English by the UK linguist David Crystal.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I had to read this for an English class and I hated it. The beginning slightly interested me, but it really only got worse. Read morePublished 16 months ago by The Reader 1991
This was a gift, I already have the book, which is a fascinating journey through the words that make up our language and how they have evolved over the centuries. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Peter A. Flynn
This is not a book to pick up and read for pleasure...unless you are a word geek like me. I did read the book for pleasure, though, and so my review will focus on that rather than... Read morePublished 20 months ago by CC Thomas
Good condition text book for school at a cheap price and fast arrival. Saved me a lot of money.Published 24 months ago by CommanderMel
Such an amazing read. Very interesting. Makes learning about the development of English exciting and interestingPublished on September 26, 2014 by Debbie Baker
It was very bad used before I received it and I am so unhappy now because it is all full of pen and tipex and pencil....Published on March 10, 2014 by Judith
Seth Lerer is delightful. So much information presented with such a happy sense of play. You get the feeling he was one of the quirky clever kids in school who probably knew more... Read morePublished on January 8, 2014 by Kathryn