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From Hwæt to Whattup: A Bibliography of the History of English (July 2014): The Queen's English

by Edwin Battistella

The Queen's English

The development of literary and spoken standards is also a part of the history of the language, along with the topic of popular attitudes toward language variation.  Most textbooks cover the history of standardization, discussing the influence of printing and publishing, the rise of a middle class and the spread of education, and the development of prescriptive and complaint traditions.[1]  John Fisher’s The Emergence of Standard English explores the language policy of Lancastrian England and its development by William Caxton and the English Chancery.  Henry Hitchings’s The Language Wars: A History of Proper English presents the topic of prescription for the general reader, while Richard Bailey’s Images of English: A Cultural History of the Language offers a more detailed exposition of popular attitudes about English as expressed by commentators and critics.  The ideology of Standard English in the United Kingdom and (though less so) the United States is explored in Standard English: The Widening Debate, edited by Tony Bex and Richard Watts, and also (from a UK perspective) in Tony Crowley’s Standard English and the Politics of Language, which provides an interesting assessment of the contributions of phonetician Daniel Jones and lexicographer/philologist Henry Wyld.  For a readable discussion of the history of Webster’s Third International Dictionary that also delves into the cultural history of language attitudes in twentieth-century America, see David Skinner’s The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published.


[1] Many sources on the prescriptive-descriptive debate are also discussed in this author’s bibliographic essay “Groping for Words,” cited above.

Works Cited