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From Hwæt to Whattup: A Bibliography of the History of English (July 2014): Teaching the History of English

by Edwin Battistella

Teaching the History of English

A course in the history of the English language is offered in most university English programs, and Albert Baugh’s A History of the English Language, published in the 1930s, established the textbook format for such courses, beginning with the justification of “English as a Cultural Subject” and moving on to a chronological exposition in eleven chapters leading up to “The English Language in America.”  Baugh discusses linguistic history, emphasizing the historical events and social forces that propelled changes in vocabulary, sound, meaning, and grammar.  Now in its sixth edition, the textbook is still popular; Thomas Cable joined as coauthor for the third edition.  In terms of longevity, the main competitor to A History of the English Language is Thomas Pyles’s The Origins and Development of the English Language, first published in 1964.  Pyles was more concerned with the internal history of sound changes, word endings, grammar, and spelling, and he treated the external history selectively.  He also gave phonemic theory a bit more discussion than did Baugh, so his book also served as an introduction to linguistics.  American English was still something of an afterthought, treated in chapter nine (“Recent British and American English”).  This volume is now in its seventh edition, authored by John Algeo (who joined with the third edition) and Carmen Butcher.

C. M. Millward’s A Biography of the English Language, with Mary Hayes as the coauthor for the third edition, is also a popular textbook and includes a grammar review as one appendix.  The book begins with an introduction to linguistics and ends with English around the world.  Elly van Gelderen’s A History of the English Language includes discussion of genetic research on Indo-European origins and of the politics and ideology of reconstruction and has excellent exercises and texts incorporated into the chapters.  Laurel Brinton and Leslie Arnovick’s The English Language: A Linguistic History gives in-depth treatment of Canadian English as well as the English of Britain and the United States, and Stephen Gramley’s The History of English: An Introduction focuses on English in the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and Australasia.  Baugh and Cable, Algeo and Butcher, and Millward and Hayes all offer workbooks synchronized with their texts, allowing students and teachers to cover some topics in more detail and to practice such skills as transcription, comparative reconstruction, word analysis, and dictionary use; several offer companion web content, the best of which is Gelderen’s.

A History of the English Language, edited by Richard Hogg and David Denison, is an advanced textbook, assuming some linguistic background, and written in the spirit of the six-volume Cambridge History of the English Language (on which it is loosely based).  Two other texts, though not dedicated to the history of English per se, offer important perspectives: Robert Stockwell and Donka Minkova’s English Words: History and Structure is a textbook for morphology but treats of the early modern and present-day vocabulary and the ways in which words change; Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes’s American English provides a history and an overview of regional, social, and ethnic American dialects and explores both the linguistic and the sociohistorical explanations of variations.

Works Cited