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What is English?: And Why Should We Care? Hardcover – 22 Aug 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (22 Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199601259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199601257
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.5 x 16.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,084,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

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.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 6 Nov. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One thing that this book could have done with is a preface from the author. A preface could have been relied on to tell us precisely what the author thinks his theme is, and that is something we have to guess for ourselves. There are four sections to the book, headed respectively The River of English, English by the Books, English in Action and Beyond English. The linking thread has to be assumed as Machan's metaphor of the `river of English'. However I found this image contrived and unhelpful. Professor Machan starts promisingly by posing the questions we might expect, namely what is `English' and how do we recognise it? To this he adds the odd question `why should we care?' and this question takes the book down some odd byways and along many a detour. By way of proclaiming his `motto-theme' Professor Machan introduces his `river' on p18, invoking the famous statement attributed to the pre-Socratic thinker Heraclitus that one can't step twice into the same river. Machan interprets this in the same way as I do myself, namely as meaning that one can't step twice into the same water. All well and good so far, because it is perfectly obvious and sensible to say that, for example, Washington DC and London have stood for centuries on the banks of the Potomac and the Thames and that these identities have been constant. Unfortunately in his very next sentence Machan says that `the flowing of time prevents us from visiting the same place twice', which states a flatly contradictory position. `The same' does not have to imply `unchanged'. This is the first instance of what I find to be an exasperating difficulty with this book - the author seems to shift his point of view from one page to the next.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Perhaps it is inevitable; indeed, it may even be correct, that a contemporary book upon the English language should be written from an American perspective. It would be hard to argue that we Brits are still the dominant end of any relationship, special or otherwise. It does help me to be more objective about this tome: I can divest myself of most of the patriotic fervour that would have hung over my views.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There is lots of interesting information about the English language, and the way it has developed, in this book. I did not find it easy read. I did not find a consistent thread or argument running through it, but did find that it worked well as a book to dip into and then think about what I had read. Anyone interested in the English language should find much to enjoy. It is not aimed as an entertainment or in the style of other books such as Bill Bryson's or 'eats shoots and leaves'
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I gave this to my son who is studying A level English... He read it and enjoyed it... I am told it opened his eyes up to how the English language evolved over hundreds of years and how it spread across the globe changing at the same time. It is also a real history book with some great passages on the English language greats such as Churchill. There are passages about the different dialects across the globe and pidgin English as well. It is a read that flows easily and takes you on a journey through history. It's given my son a boost in his A level English as he feels he knows far more about the history and influences on English speakers and how it has grown and changed throughout the great upheavals and spread of the language. Yes I know my grammar is p. poor but I'm a CSE grade 1 pass only...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are plenty of books on the market about modern global English, so why should you get this one? If you are looking for easy answers and generalisations, this is not your book. Tim William Machan is an academic who has worked on medieval English and I think Icelandic, so it was never going to be Bill Bryson.

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.
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