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Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language 0th Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231137942
ISBN-10: 023113794X
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Product Details

  • 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)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. C. Doane on May 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This isn't intended to be a review.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I ordered INVENTING ENGLISH the minute I read the reviews and was not disappointed. In fact, it exceeded my expectations. Lerer, a Stanford professor who has produced audio lectures on the English language as well as a considerable backlog of scholarship, has created a highly readable book that goes back to the very origins of the language--its sounds, rhythms, organization, meanings and looks--in post-Roman Britain and then follows its very organic, human trail forward from Old English to Middle English to the modern language that leaped an ocean, spread across the New World and is still evolving.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
If reading a history of the English language seems a daunting task, do not despair. Lerer presents his concise history as a conversation with his reader and not as an encyclopedic form. Lerer's style of writing is familiar and close, like you are having light discourse with friends over a glass of wine. He writes in short, self-contained chapters, which smoothly take the reader from seventh century English to the present. It is a book that can be read in a few nights, or if one wishes, at a more leisurely pace which does not make one feel detached from the subject. During the course of this book, Lerer connects with his readers on many levels. He offers his own feelings of inadequacy about studying the language and provides his readers with a sense of immediacy about language change. Although some prior knowledge of linguistics may be helpful, Lerer's text is complete with an appendix and glossary of terms. So, while studying the English language may not seem like easy reading, be assured that Lerer's book provides readers with the experience of reading at ease.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is not (and not meant to be) mere entertainment, so I will review this book by introducing who I am and what I wanted.

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.
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