Synopses & Reviews
Why is there such a striking difference between English spelling and English pronunciation? How did our seemingly relatively simple grammar rules develop? What are the origins of regional dialect, literary language, and everyday speech, and what do they have to do with you?
Seth Lerer's Inventing English is a masterful, engaging history of the English language from the age of Beowulf to the rap of Eminem. Many have written about the evolution of our grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, but only Lerer situates these developments in the larger history of English, America, and literature.
Lerer begins in the seventh century with the poet Caedmon learning to sing what would become the earliest poem in English. He then looks at the medieval scribes and poets who gave shape to Middle English. He finds the traces of the Great Vowel Shift in the spelling choices of letter writers of the fifteenth century and explores the achievements of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of 1755 and The Oxford English Dictionary of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He describes the differences between English and American usage and, through the example of Mark Twain, the link between regional dialect and race, class, and gender. Finally, he muses on the ways in which contact with foreign languages, popular culture, advertising, the Internet, and e-mail continue to shape English for future generations.
Each concise chapter illuminates a moment of invention-a time when people discovered a new form of expression or changed the way they spoke or wrote. In conclusion, Lerer wonders whether globalization and technology have turned English into a world language and reflects on what has been preserved and what has been lost. A unique blend of historical and personal narrative, Inventing English is the surprising tale of a language that is as dynamic as the people to whom it belongs.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In this entertaining and highly readable book, Lerer delves into the history and evolution of the English language--pronunciation, grammar, and dialect--and wonders whether globalization and technology have turned English into a world language.
A masterful, engaging history of the English language from the age of "Beowulf" to the rap of Eminem, this book percolates with creative energy ("Publishers Weekly").