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Do You Speak American?
Synopses & Reviews
Is American English in decline? Are regional dialects dying out? Is there a difference between men and women in how they adapt to linguistic variations?
These questions, and more, about our language catapulted Robert MacNeil and William Cran — the authors (with Robert McCrum) of the language classic The Story of English — across the country in search of the answers. Do You Speak American? is the tale of their discoveries, which provocatively show how the standard for American English — if a standard exists — is changing quickly and dramatically.
On a journey that takes them from the Northeast, through Appalachia and the Deep South, and west to California, the authors observe everyday verbal interactions and in a host of interviews with native speakers glean the linguistic quirks and traditions characteristic of each area. While examining the histories and controversies surrounding both written and spoken American English, they address anxieties and assumptions that, when explored, are highly emotional, such as the growing influence of Spanish as a threat to American English and the special treatment of African-American vernacular English. And, challenging the purists who think grammatical standards are in serious deterioration and that media saturation of our culture is homogenizing our speech, they surprise us with unpredictable responses.
With insight and wit, MacNeil and Cran bring us a compelling book that is at once a celebration and a potent study of our singular language.
"The English language is not a thing but a process, not an archaic institution but an experiment that is constantly evolving and re-invigorating itself. According to language experts MacNeil and Cran, no one should understand this better than Americans who, steeped in a culture of diversity, are uniquely equipped to appreciate the exciting, colorful and democratic nature of language. Although not all Americans appreciate this vibrancy-many prominent linguists are found bemoaning the state of English, horrified that people still do not understand the difference between who and whom-the evidence of an ever-changing language is indisputable, from the New York Times printing the word 'sleazoid' in a column to the Oxford English Dictionary adding 'blogger' to its latest edition. To better understand the diversity of American English, the authors embark on a fascinating journey across the United States, studying the conversations of Boston natives and rural Texans, inner-city blacks and valley-girl teenagers. The result is an exhilarating celebration of the ways that Americans express themselves and a testament to the indestructible power of language, whether one is using 'correct' grammar or not. Traditional linguists might not approve of the way modern Americans are talking, but they will never be able to stop the English language from moving forward and, as this book successfully proves, there is nothing more American than that." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] surprisingly lively and compelling exploration of American English....This is colorful, witty, and insightful commentary on American speech patterns." Booklist
A real and linguistic travelogue through the United States by the authors of the bestseller The Story of English. Tie-in to the PBS-TV special Do You Speak American hosted by MacNeil and scheduled to air 1/5/05.
About the Author
Robert MacNeil and William Cran are the coauthors of The Story of English (with Robert McCrum). The coanchor of PBS’s The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour until his retirement in 1995, Robert MacNeil is also the author of four nonfiction works, including his two volumes of memoir, Wordstruck and Looking for My Country, and three novels, The Voyage, Burden of Desire, and Breaking News. He lives in New York City.
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