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From Hwæt to Whattup: A Bibliography of the History of English (July 2014): Handbooks and Bibliographies

by Edwin Battistella

Handbooks and Bibliographies

Books on the history of English face three challenges: what to include, whose English to study, and how to write competently about such a vast subject.  The Cambridge History of the English Language, a six-volume, comprehensive reference work under the general editorship of Richard Hogg, approaches those problems by relying on multiple experts.  Each volume of the Cambridge History gives a long treatment of what one might find in a short section of a standard textbook.  The first three volumes provide in-depth analyses of phonology, morphology, syntax, vocabulary/semantics, and the literary languages of Old, Middle, and Modern English through 1776.  The final three volumes cover English in the United States and the British Commonwealth, with analysis of the language in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere.  At 4,160 pages, the Cambridge History is extensive, well organized, and readable.

Other encyclopedias and handbooks complement the Cambridge History.  In just shy of 1,000 pages, The Oxford Handbook of the History of English, edited by Terttu Nevalainen and Elizabeth Closs Traugott, offers sixty-eight concise chapters that revisit and rethink issues of sociocultural and technological change, language contact, and the nature of historical evidence.  The Oxford History of English, edited by Lynda Mugglestone, is a more manageable 485 pages but still manages fourteen excellent chapters emphasizing the heterogeneity of English and questions of contact, transmission, and competing norms.  Finally, The Oxford Companion to the English Language, edited by Tom McArthur, is a straightforward glossary of terms and definitions.

The Handbook of the History of English, edited by Ans van Kemenade and Bettelou Los, is organized topically, with twenty-three state-of-the art papers on such topics as pragmatics, dialectology, syntax, and prosody.  Its aim is to bring scholars and students up to date on recent advances, presenting research in some depth.  A Companion to the History of the English Language, edited by Haruko Momma and Michael Matto, has fifty-nine articles on useful teaching topics, including the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Joyce, Faulkner, Rushdie, and Morrison, along with survey pieces on specific periods.

Rounding out the handbooks is Legacies of Colonial English: Studies in Transported Dialects, edited by Raymond Hickey, with twenty-one articles on English in the commonwealth and postcolonial areas; the volume includes contributions on American dialects but also some on English-based creoles and English in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Africa, and Asia.  Useful appendixes provide lists of nonstandard features, time lines, and maps.

Several excellent bibliographies have been published.  One of the earliest is Arthur Kennedy’s A Bibliography of Writings on the English Language from the Beginning of Printing to the End of 1922A Bibliography of Writings for the History of the English Language, compiled and edited by Jacek Fisiak, which begins with a list of thirty-three other bibliographies and lists 3,641 entries characterized into fifteen broad topics and seventy-five subtopics.  Gneuss’s English Language Scholarship, mentioned at the beginning of this essay, also includes a bibliographic guide of about 700 items, through 1993.  Finally, The Year’s Work in English Studies, an annual, provides bibliographic coverage and critical commentary of scholarly work, and includes a section dedicated to the history of English linguistics, lexicography, onomastics, dialectology, and sociolinguistics.