Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid TITLE: An Introduction to Late Modern English SERIES: Edinburgh Textbooks on the English Language PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press YEAR: 2009
Svenja Kranich, University of Hamburg
This textbook offers a very useful and stimulating introduction to a long neglected period in the history of the English language. Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade draws on her own extensive research in the field as well as research in projects supervised by her which have produced fascinating insights. The only shortcoming of this otherwise recommendable book is, to my mind, a certain neglect for perspectives on Late Modern English that do not share the sociohistorical and historical pragmatics focus (e.g. corpus-linguistic studies by Hundt 2004, Smitterberg 2005, Noël 2008, Kranich 2008).
The organization of the book is clear and easy to follow. Chapter 1 offers an introduction to the historical background of the Late Modern English period, with a clear focus on aspects most relevant for linguistic change, such as education, literacy and social mobility. Student readers can be expected to be particularly drawn into the topic by references to the lives of individuals, particularly well-known (and loved) figures such as Jane Austen.
Chapter 2 deals with pronunciation. As all chapters it presents a mixture of information on changes in the language system (e.g. loss of initial aspiration in words such as 'which') and on the linguistic usage of individuals. Here, as elsewhere, it is a very positive feature of the book that readers are informed about the sources used by linguists to arrive at conclusions about language use in historical times. Readers are also made aware of possible misapprehensions, e.g. they are warned against taking dialect representation in novels to represent naturalistic representations (p. 30) and against assuming that court transcripts represent faithful transcriptions of oral data, when, as Tieken-Boon van Ostade rightly stresses, they ''were made by clerks, not linguists, and the purpose of the records was to preserve the contents of the proceedings, not the pronunciation of the speakers'' (p. 17).
Chapter 3 provides information on the development of spelling. Readers are made aware of differences between public spelling systems, as used in printed books, and private spelling systems, used e.g. in private letters. The chapter furthermore contains information on the teaching of spelling, its importance for social distinction as well as on the process of standardization.
Chapter 4 can be said to have a two-fold aim: on the one hand, it provides information about lexical innovation and change in the period; on the other hand, it familiarizes readers with the OED (its history, its present state of review, its shortcomings). By focusing on 'first users' (as listed in the OED) of new lexical items, once more Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade's presentation can be expected to draw student readers into the topic by giving the information a touch of human interest.
Chapter 5 looks at a wide variety of grammatical constructions and patterns of variation, including e.g. the subjunctive, the use of future markers and gerundial constructions. It presents an insightful discussion of the (limits of the) influence of grammar writing on actual usage.
Chapter 6 provides readers with useful information about social networks and their impact on language variation and change. It shows how the concept of social networks can be fruitfully employed in historical contexts by giving many vivid examples. The question of gender and language use is also discussed here.
Chapter 7 introduces readers to the concept of text types and then proceeds to give an overview of language use in different text types in Late Modern English. In this context readers are also familiarized with the dimensions (e.g. involved vs. informational) of text production introduced by Biber (1988).
This introductory textbook, written in a lively and engaging style, offers an accessible introduction to the study of Late Modern English. Teachers of seminars not only on the specific period of Late Modern English, but also of general introductions to historical linguistics, the history of the English language or sociolinguistic seminars (which include a diachronic perspective) will find material they can profitably integrate into their curriculum.
The organization of the book generally allows students to either read the whole book or individual chapters, although there are certain pieces of information that might have been repeated to facilitate the latter use (e.g. p. 45, where the author refers to ''the social class to which Elizabeth Clift belonged'', which either presupposes too much background knowledge or that the reader has retained the information from previous chapters).
The organization of the individual chapters is also in general very well-conceived, although one might note a slight weakness in the organization of chapter 6, as it starts by discussing a specific pattern of variation and only introduces the concepts crucial to the chapter, i.e. Milroy's (1987) Social Network Analysis, in section 6.3. This may be somewhat confusing to readers unfamiliar with the model.
The focus of the book is clearly inspired by a take on language change that is most interested in actual language use and language users. It thus draws very much on historical sociolinguistic and historical pragmatics studies, which provide indeed very interesting insights. Sometimes it seems a more clear-cut distinction could have been made between language usage and language system, however, and it is a bit of a shame, in my view, that the concentration on the (very necessary) discussion of individual usage and social variation sometimes leaves very little room to the discussion of the latter. This is in particular notable in chapter 5 on 'Grammar and Grammars', which would have been a great place to illustrate that indeed, as stated on the back cover, it is ''far from true'' ''that nothing much happened to the English language since the beginning of the eighteenth century'', by showing fundamental changes in the system of the language (e.g. in regard to the status of 'do'-support, mentioned only briefly in regard to sociolinguistic patterns of use, or concerning developments in the tense-mood-aspect system, e.g. the development of the progressive). While true innovations are indeed rare, as is pointed out, the obligatorification of some major grammatical constructions in the period under consideration constitutes a significant type of change that, to my mind, would have deserved to have been highlighted.
Another issue that I would have liked to have seen addressed in more detail in an introduction to the Late Modern period would have been the development of English into a world language - a development for which the period is crucial. Some comments are made on divergence of British and American use and on attitudes towards e.g. Irish speakers of English, but the split-up of different national Englishes is not systematically treated. If one uses this introduction as a textbook for a seminar, I would therefore suggest to provide additional reading to students with these points in mind (e.g. Denison 1998, excerpts from Burchfield (ed.) 1994, Algeo (ed.) 2001).
A particular benefit of the book is that at many different points it draws attention to interesting research questions readers could pursue and provides information on available resources. One more important (and freely available) data base for the study of Late Modern English that should be mentioned is the Corpus of Late Modern English Texts (CLMET; https://perswww.kuleuven.be/~u0044428/clmet.htm, the corpus make-up is presented in detail by De Smet 2005).
Another positive feature of the book lies in the research questions for students. These research tasks listed at the end of each chapter are generally very well construed, feasible and likely to engender interest in students. Some can be used for larger research projects, others are suitable as shorter exercises, or for take-home-exams. The tasks presented at the end of chapter 6 stand out a bit in that they seem all in all rather difficult and time-consuming (e.g. task 10, to analyze the difference in usage of the progressive in correspondence according to addressees and style in writing would be an interesting research question for a master's thesis, but for any smaller scale exercise it would prove hardly feasible to produce interesting results).
To conclude, despite some gaps (almost inevitable in writing a short introduction) and possibilities for improvement, this is a recommendable book that will allow readers a good insight into the language use and the social background of speakers of Late Modern English.
Algeo, John (ed.) 2001. The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol. VI: English in North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Biber, Douglas. 1988. Variation across Speech and Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Burchfield, Robert (ed.) 1994. The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol. V: English in Britain and Overseas. Origin and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Denison, David. 1998. Syntax. In Romaine, Suzanne (ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Language. Vol. IV. 1776-1997. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 92-329. De Smet, Hendrik. 2005. A corpus of Late Modern English. ICAME-Journal 29: 69-82. Hundt, Marianne. 2004. The Passival and the Progressive Passive: A Case Study of Layering in the English Aspect and Voice Systems. In Lindquist, Hans & Christian Mair (eds.), Corpus Approaches to Grammaticalization in English. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 79-120. Kranich, Svenja. 2008. Subjective Progressives in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century English. Secondary Grammaticalization as a Process of Objectification. In Gotti, Maurizio, Marina Dossena and Richard Dury (Hrsg.), English Historical Linguistics 2006. Vol. I Syntax and Morphology. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 241-256. Milroy, Leslie. 1987. Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Blackwell. Noël, Dirk. 2008. The Nominative and Infinitive in Late Modern English. A Diachronic Constructionist Approach. Journal of English Linguistics 36: 314-340. OED. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (http://www.oed.com) Smitterberg, Erik. 2005. The Progressive in 19th-century English. A Process of Integration. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Svenja Kranich is full-time researcher in the project 'Covert Translation'
at the University of Hamburg funded by the German Research Foundation
(DFG). Her research interests include language variation and change,
language contact, corpus linguistics, semantics, pragmatics and
textlinguistics. After a PhD thesis on the development of the progressive
in Modern English, she is currently working on the use of evaluative lexis
and the use of epistemic modals as hedges in English and German original
and translated texts, as well as on establishing a general framework for
studying translation-induced language variation and change.