How English Became English

Monday, May 2, 2016


How English Became English
Simon Horobin, 2016

New release! I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review.

Premise: A layman-friendly history of the English language: the roots of its complexity, the source of its foibles, the ways people have sought to define or legislate it, and the ways it is continuing to grow and change.

What a joy for a word-lover like me! This book lays out English in all its glory.

I loved learning about the languages that came together to make Old English and all the reasons that other languages and words were folded in later. It was especially interesting to get examples of how the long-ago mashing together of people and language created specific inconsistencies and quirks that carry through to the modern language.

The book has a humorous, modern tone, which I enjoyed, and the author clearly has little sympathy for prescriptivists who would put the language in a box and freeze “correct” English in place. There’s a good deal of commentary on the history of language authorities. I enjoyed the description of the circular nature of certain important references, i.e. citing Shakespeare’s use of a word to prove the meaning of the word, and then using the citation to prove the importance of Shakespeare to the language.

I would have liked more about emerging dialects and the future of English, although the commentary on the classism inherent in the codification of Standard English is well done.

This was a proof copy, so the book is not necessarily final, but the ending was a bit jarring, just sort of: “Well, and that’s a list of all the things about the history of English you should know.”

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

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