- 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: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #948,056 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
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. Similar titles but different books. Well, a lot of the same ground is covered by them, but some differences and with different aims. "Story" gives the history with a self-congratulatory isn't-English-great? backdrop, and focuses a lot on pronunciation and dialect differences. It is a little more US-centered, a little shallower and just a little easier to read. Crystal's Stories while addressing accents and dialects in depth also talks about structure a little more and literature as well and has a bit more on the relations between Eng and various other languages. He certainly explains what Old English was in a more in-depth and understandable way than the Story of English did, including charts and excerpts etc. He also takes a theme explaining the grammar proscriptivism of the last 300 yrs (the assertion of one grammar being right and other dialect grammars being wrong) and debunks it, something which Story only did in passing. Overall I would say go with Crystal's Stories, but it was not a waste reading both. As for Inventing English, I don't want to say it is a waste, just that the information is better presented, more in depth and clearer in other books. At the very least wait for a paperback, if they make it.