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The English Language: A Historical Introduction

(Cambridge Approaches to Linguistics)

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  279 ratings  ·  21 reviews
Where does today's English come from? This book describes the nature of language and language change, and presents a history of the English language from prehistory to the present day, dealing with key topics such as grammar, pronunciation and semantics. The main theoretical and technical concepts of historical linguistics are also explained. Charles Barber uses familiar t ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published May 8th 2000 by Cambridge University Press (first published May 28th 1993)
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3.78  · 
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 ·  279 ratings  ·  21 reviews

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THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: A Historical Introduction aims to cover the development of our speech over as wide a span as possible, from the murky past of the ancestral Indo-European language to the present day. Charles Barber was responsible for the first edition of 1993, but for this second edition Joan C. Beal and Philip A. Shaw have made some revisions and added an entire new chapter on Late Modern English. The book is targeted towards speakers of UK English, as many of the examples and the descrip ...more
Feb 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is great fun if you're a language geek. Maybe even if you aren't. Barber goes through all the major stages of English's development, talking about sound, vocabulary and grammar change in what was just the right amount of detail for a general introduction. The one drawback, as an American, is that his reference point for modern pronunciation is British so sometimes his examples are a little difficult to imagine.
James Rose
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book was required reading for a class, and I found it to be very enjoyable an informative. It gives an in-depth look at the major changes in the history of English and presents them in an intelligible fashion. The linguistic information is not to technical, so anyone with a basic knowledge of linguistics or grammar will find the content to be interesting. The denser material is dispersed in front of a larger historical time line that keeps the book moving.
Eric McLean
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first started reading this book I was terrified by the linguistics portion containe din the first 50 pages or so. I have to say that I learned A LOT reading this book. It is very academic and scholarly; unfortunately, it may be a little too scholarly for an undergrad class and I would have appreciated it more if I had been majoring in Linguistics. Overall, a very insightful book.
Jan 27, 2010 rated it liked it
While this book is a guaranteed snooze-fest, the author does have really interesting ideas and explains himself very clearly. It was fun to read when I had enough brain power to really focus. Considering how deathly dull this book *could* have been, it was actually pretty well done.
Mar 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Got just over halfway through this before moving on. Good stuff, but dense. I would need more of a background in linguistics, and facility with IPA, to take full advantage of the text.
Gwen Jones-edwarda
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Covers a large subject well: an excellent introduction.
Jun 17, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A reasonably good, but dry overview of the history of English. But if you speak American English the examples are hard to follow.
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: linguistics
I found this book highly interesting and informative. If you don't have a particular interest in the history of English, then don't read it. If you don't want to be exposed to some terminology from the field of linguistics, then don't read it. It is not what I'd describe as an "easy" read. I would, however, describe it as rewarding.
I have had a little bit of training in linguistics, and no doubt this helped me in understanding some of the more technical aspects of the book. But one of the things
Gabriel Proctor
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gives a good overview of both the historical and linguistic developments throughout the history of the English language.
Sep 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The second edition of this book provides mainly the important milestones in the historical development of English language, with the sensible structure. Readers are required to have some concern on Old & Middle English as well as some basic knowledge of British history, so they can understand the content perfectly. But this book can also draw attention to one who find all the written information fresh to them. It's quite essential for people who study or get interested in British English, bu ...more
Karel Veselský
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
A textbook on historical development of English. My primary source of exam knowledge, relatively easy-to-follow and comprehensive. The historical stuff described there was also moderately interesting (considering how boring linguistics is).
Colette Hinton
Really difficult - the historical section is not that hard to understand, but trying to learn to read Old English is like trying to learn to read a completely foreign language. I would not recommend this book unless you have a special interest in Old English.
Jan 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Didactic, but interesting nonetheless.
Read for a course on the history of the English language. Dense reading but informative.
Mar 12, 2010 added it
Good reading if you want to hear the background and why words have appeared in the language also the vowel shifts and language changes.
Love this book!!
Jan 04, 2010 rated it did not like it
Okay, so I didn't actually finish this one. Life is too short to waste on sub par books. This one is so technical it reads like stereo instructions.
Saltwater Swill
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Slow reading for a layperson, especially one with a meager familiarity with IPA, but very informative.
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