Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Seth Lerer tells a masterful history of the English language from the age of Beowulf to the rap of Eminem. Many have written about the evolution of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, but only Lerer situates these developments within the larger history of English, America, and literature. This edition features a new chapter on the influence of biblical translation and an epilogue on the relationship of English speech to writing. A unique blend of historical and personal narrative, Inventing English is the surprising tale of a language that is as dynamic as the people to whom it belongs.
hæfde in Caines cynne— þone cwealm gewræc ece Drihten, þæs þe he Abel slog. (102–8) [The grim spirit was called Grendel, well-known walker in the border lands, he who held to the moors, the fen and the fastness; the home of the race of monsters the miserable creature occupied for a while, ever since the Lord had condemned him as one of the descendants of Cain—the one whom the eternal lord condemned to death, because he slew Abel.] This passage tells us much about the monster, but it also tells us
business of explaining the Great Vowel Shift has, in fact, gone on by coming up with visual representations of its stages (see ﬁgure 7.1). Otto Jespersen 102 The Great Vowel Shift and the Changing Character of English imagined this sequence as a kind of chain (see ﬁgure 7.2). Any movement of one link in this chain affected all the other links, and while Jespersen and his successors argued over what moves came ﬁrst, something of a standard account soon emerged. According to this account, the
Eneydos is an essay on relationships of character and language. And, like Paston, Caxton makes his verbal choices carefully. His book will be, in the end, “not for euery rude and vnconnynge man to see but to clerkys and very gentylmen that vnderstand gentylnes and science.” The changing nature of the English language in the ﬁfteenth century pressured those old relationships of character and language, and that character had as much to do with the written look as with the spoken sound of English.
one (such or suche was the preferred form in Chancery documents to swiche). While Caxton does preserve the older, Middle English plural verb ending in -n (slepyn, longyn, holpyn), he neglects to do so in the line, “And smale foulis make melodye”—again, a Chancery habit. His plural nouns end more frequently in -is than in the older -es (shouris, croppis, foulis, strondis), also a feature of many Chancery documents. And, on occasion, Caxton substitutes the newer, Chancery inspired (and ultimately
political: love and peace. Johnson knew, and lost, both. His drudgery in dictionary making went beyond self-pity, for if we complete that famous deﬁnition it is of a harmless drudge “that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signiﬁcation of words.” Johnson was always tracing out the original, seeking to signify himself, ﬁnding the words that matched the thought. His reading sought to match the proper quotations with meanings. If he was mad, or miserable, it may have been out