How English Became English

Here could be a book bound to delight, enlighten, or annoy readers of language blogs like this one.


Here could be a book bound to delight, enlighten, or annoy readers of language blogs like this one:

Horobin, Professor of English and literature at the University of Oxford, has packed a large amount of knowledge into a 5×7 format of 175 pages, including bibliography and index.

The first two chapters fulfill the promise of the title, placing English within the Germanic branch of the Indo-European tribe and detailing how it lost its inflections and purchased a Latinate vocabulary. Certainly, the male grammarians latched onto the rule and repeated it in their own style guides, but the primary grammarian to suggest that he could also be understood to incorporate women was a woman: Ann Fisher (1719-1778), author of a replacement Grammar with Exercises of Bad English (1745).

Note: From the time of Chaucer until the current, the employment of plural they with a singular antecedent has been and remains common within the written studying abroad essay of respected authors.

As a fair more extreme example of sexist linguistic prescription, Horobin includes the “rule of male precedence” supported “natural order” advocated by one Thomas Wilson in 1553. Here’s Wilson’s investigation of the preposterousness of mentioning a female subject before a male one (spelling modernized):

Some will set the cart before the horse, as thus, “My mother and my father are both receptions,” as though the great man of the house wore no breeches…let us keep a macrocosm, and set the person before the girl for manners’ sake.

Apart from putting women and therefore the group in their place, language critics of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries focused on “purifying” English and securing it from ongoing change.

Daniel Defoe and Dean Swift admired the academy and wanted something the same as governing the employment of English. In Swift’s view, “It is healthier a Language mustn't be wholly perfect, than that it should be perpetually changing.”

Another eighteenth-century pundit, however—lexicographer Samuel Johnson—was forced to admit the impossibility of trying to “embalm” language. He may have begun his project thinking, as many speakers still do, that a comprehensive dictionary of English would “fix” the language and “put a stop to those alterations which period and alter have hitherto been suffered to form in it without opposition.” He discovered that such expectations were as unrealistic as any others that aim to rid human society of its many imperfections.

Nevertheless, from the efforts to prevent the language from changing emerged the concept of “Standard English.”

In Chapter Four, Horobin explains what a “standard dialect” is and—more importantly—what it's not.

1. Standard English isn't inherently superior to all or any other types of English.

2. Standard English doesn't exclude colloquial speech or regional accents.

Horobin points out that it’s possible to talk casually, bad words and everyone, “without flouting the grammatical principles of normal English.” As for regional accents, it’s possible to talk .

3. Standard English doesn't exist to function as a social marker to differentiate “snobs” from “regular people.”

Standard English is that the dialect of state, commerce, and education. Standard English is class-neutral.

4. The teaching of normal English within the schools isn't optional.

Although Standard English isn't “inherently superior” to other dialects that children mature speaking reception, “schools have a requirement to show Standard English to children, no matter their background and linguistic heritage.” Home dialects are often acknowledged and revered within the classroom, but, in Horobin’s words, to not teach it “would be a dereliction of duty, since Standard English is an important tool for enabling children to pass essay writing on exams, and equipping them for the planet of labor.”

English is to the trendy world what Latin was to the traditional world at the peak of the Roman Empire. within the twenty-first century, an estimated 450 million people speak English as a primary language, and 1 to 1.5 billion speak it as a second language in places everywhere in the world.

A language spoken by such a lot in such a lot of regions will inevitably morph into different dialects. And—like Latin—English may spawn a family of recent languages which will be as distinct from their parent as Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Catalan are from their ancestral Latin.

One of several “mixed varieties” of English Horobin cites is “Spanglish,” also called “Chicano English,” a mixture of English and Spanish that's “a well-established dialect widely used among the over 44 million members of America’s Hispanic population.” Another is Singlish, a creole that mixes English with Malay and is spoken in Singapore.

The final chapter, “Why will we Care,” explores the explanations speakers feel so strongly about language choices for themselves et al.

Modern speakers realize that English has undergone significant change from generation to generation, but that doesn’t prevent them from resisting change in their own generation. It’s a form of “not in my backyard” syndrome.

Horobin explains this unwillingness to simply accept changes going down within the English of today by the actual fact that “it is impossible for us to require an external stance from which to watch current usage.”

We all “know” what’s right, either because we remember what our teachers told us after we were children, or because we have a preferred style guide on that keeps us on the straight and narrow now that we are adults.

How English Became English could be a wonderful little book, an information-packed resource that will surely do what Horobin hopes: stimulate and inform the never-ending dialogue between prescriptivists and descriptivists.

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