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Speaking American: A History of English in the United States

3.24  ·  Rating Details  ·  49 Ratings  ·  10 Reviews
When did English become American? What distinctive qualities made it American? What role have America's democratizing impulses, and its vibrantly heterogeneous speakers, played in shaping our language and separating it from the mother tongue?

A wide-ranging account of American English, Richard Bailey's Speaking American investigates the history and continuing evolution of
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Hardcover, 232 pages
Published December 2011 by Oxford University Press
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Jacob Lines
Apr 04, 2015 Jacob Lines rated it liked it
Americans speak English differently than Britons do. There are a lot of reasons why. This book presents a history of American English in eight areas that influenced the development of the language: the Chesapeake Bay before 1650, Boston from 1650 to 1700, Charleston from 1700 to 1750, Philadelphia from 1750 to 1800, New Orleans from 1800 to 1850, New York from 1850 to 1900, Chicago from 1900 to 1950, and then Los Angeles from 1950 to 2000. Because of the length of the book – only about 180 pages ...more
Paul
May 18, 2013 Paul rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013
It's my fault that I went into this book having apparently ignored the subtitle and expecting a survey of current usage, not a history. Still, this book was pretty vague and very largely non-informative. Organizing each chapter into a decade and a location (e.g. New Orleans, 1800-1850) gives the "history" a snapshot feel and provides little context for what was actually happening in the nation (and to the language) as a whole. Far too little is said about the way people actually spoke, though ne ...more
Brian
Feb 05, 2012 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: nytimes book review
Shelves: on-nook
(3.0) Interesting, but not deep enough with too few examples and incomplete editing

Okay, so Bailey passed away before publication so whoever took over didn't want to step on his toes too much (they have a note to that effect at the beginning of the book), but they left behind an incompletely edited work. There are grammar and punctuation bugs as well as several sentences that are difficult to parse (or they're downright editing errors).

My interest in his topics were generally directly proportion
...more
Rebecca
Dec 20, 2012 Rebecca rated it liked it
Bailey takes us on a tour through time and space, stopping at each location for fifty years as he comes forward in time explaining how American English came about. You get a look at how the different populations that came to American influenced the language in the places they chose to settle down. It is interesting to see the language shift and change and to learn how some words came to be included in the evolving language. But I wouldn’t say that this is a very readable book. Bailey really knew ...more
Amy
Jan 15, 2015 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book probably isn't for everyone, but if you love words, the English language, and(or?) history, you'll learn a lot and have interesting language trivia (I won't spoil the coolest thing I learned for you here) to share at parties. Did I say parties? I mean your fellow word-nerd friends. A surprisingly engaging read considering the topic -- the author moves quickly enough that the drier facts don't get boring and you want to keep reading to know more about how our language evolved. The break ...more
Stuart
Feb 19, 2013 Stuart rated it really liked it
Very interesting how Disney used accented English for the villains and proper English for the hero, as well as African American English for only animals. This racist propaganda disguised in the most innocent of guises--the cartoon or animation--speaks of the deeply rooted prejudice around us. I admit to being largely ignorant of this. (I was aware of the prejudice against Chinese Americans in old films from prior reading)

This is a fascinating book if you like history, I wasn't bored with it at a
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Jay
Apr 09, 2012 Jay rated it liked it
Not quite what I thought it would be, I thought it'd be more of an explanation how the different accents came about. This is more about how regionalism provided the distinction of American English as opposed to British English or other national accents. Easily skimmed and sections skipped.
Milton
Apr 09, 2014 Milton rated it it was amazing
The continuing evolution of the American English from the sixteen century to present. How Chesapeake bay, Boston, Charleston and other cities contributed to the growing and widespread of the English language. A must read for anyone interested in this language.
Amanda Linehan
Mar 22, 2012 Amanda Linehan rated it really liked it
This book was fascinating! It walks through history one city at a time and discusses the ways that language evolved into the English we know today. I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in language or American history.
Jermajesty
Mar 01, 2012 Jermajesty rated it liked it
This book promised to be a true eye-opener but ended up somehow underwhelming. Still a worthwhile read, but only to people who already find the subject matter fascinating.
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