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What is English?: And Why Should We Care? Hardcover – 22 Aug 2013
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Machan's combination of precise detail, alongside thematic (rather than rigidly chronological) exploration, is often particularly rewarding. (Times Literary Supplement)
like a river, English never stands still. This intelligent and entertaining book illuminates how a global language depends on that flux. (Oliver Kamm, The Times)
This will be a rewarding book for anyone interested in the English language, especially students of English and educators ... Highly recommended. (E.L. Battistella, CHOICE)
About the Author
Tim Machan is Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. His books include English in the Middle Ages and Language Anxiety published by Oxford University Press in 2003 and 2009 respectively, and Vafrúnismál published in by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in 2008.
Top Customer Reviews
The book argues that all the English speaking peoples of the world have the right to the same respect - one regional variation is no better, or worse than another and, since America took the English language and amended it to her own needs, it would be foolish for the author to suggest otherwise. It is, however, noticeable that the book concentrates on the evolution of English with a very heavy US slant. Its birth and development until the Americas were colonised is dealt with in pretty short shrift and, the post US period is given greater prominence and, to my way of thinking, the other usurpers of our British tongue, have a tougher ride than our Transatlantic cousins. There is also an, in my opinion, over long and somewhat confused history of the Second World War told from the perspective of language: as with any such specific argument, the point becomes overly stretched.
Despite these niggles, this is a worthwhile read. If one were to agree with everything in any book, then it would be a waste of time reading same: it is often in the areas that one most rejects whilst reading, that the greatest advance in one's understanding may develop.
HOWEVER, I loved how well he depicts the past and current state of English. In the first chapter, for example, he explains the way in which English acts as a 'gatekeeper language' for many schools, universities and jobs in a way I'd never really considered. He quotes from adverts and websites which made me think he must be a very entertaining lecturer.
And when he goes back in time, to consider English in the South Seas, thinking about eighteenth century missionaries trying to teach the 'natives' the English tongue, I found his discussion of the issues involved, from a modern perspective, really enlightening and entertaining. Additionally, I found the sections compelling when Machan was informed by his own research - when he discussed grammar changes in the Middle Ages (not something I'd normally describe as 'gripping').
it is not a straightforward history - the chapters are thematic, and so it won't satisfy anyone looking for an overall guide. It is also not a 'popular' book, as it considers the topics from an academic standpoint and with a rigour and vocabulary which might put off some readers.
And in fact, I'm not even sure that at the end, I felt he'd answered the questions 'What is English" OR why I should care. But i came away with so many interesting thoughts and insights that I feel it was entirely worth reading. I can see that many readers will be frustrated by the author's lack of answers or conclusions, but I very much enjoyed the ride.