This accessible introduction to the structure of English, general theories in linguistics, and important issues in sociolinguistics, is the first text written specifically for English and Education majors.
This engaging introductory language/linguistics textbook provides more extensive coverage of issues of particular interest to English majors and future English instructors. It invites all students to connect academic linguistics to the everyday use of the English language around them. The book’s approach taps students’ natural curiosity about the English language. Through exercises and discussion questions about ongoing changes in English, How English Works asks students to become active participants in the construction of linguistic knowledge.
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- Focuses on issues especially important to English majors, such as American dialects, descriptive and prescriptive approaches to English grammar, the history of English, English spelling, stylistics, language attitudes, and language education.
- Current examples and exercises tie the linguistic material to students’ everyday experiences with the English language. Each chapter opens with a scenario that highlights key issues covered in the chapter.
- Featuring a building block approach, the text begins with an introduction to the foundations of systematic language study and the relationship of language and authority in chapters 1 and 2, and then progresses “up” through the levels of language structure, from phonology through syntax and semantics to discourse and sociolinguistics.
- Focuses on the social and political issues surrounding the English language.
- Attention to the history of English throughout the text culminates in two final chapters focused on the past and future of English.
- Includes a wealth of useful pedagogical material, clarifying or detailing text topics and prompting student participation: Discussion, Scholar Profile, and Linguistic Inquiry boxes; in-chapter exercises; end-of-chapter suggested readings; and a glossary of linguistic terminology.
New to This Edition
- New and updated material on electronically-mediated communication such as texting and etiquette of instant messaging.
- A major new section on literature and speech with tools for reading and analyzing literary works and speech acts.
- A new explanation of where (some) contractions, like ain't , fit into English word formation
- An extended discussion of attitudes about language focusing on the debate between those who believe English is decaying to those who feel language is change is natural.
- An improved section on "what makes good writing."
Table of Contents
Inside Front Cover Dialect Map of American English, Consonant Phonemes of American English, Vowel Phonemes of American English
Inside Back Cover Brief Timeline for the History of the English Language
List of Symbols, Linguistic Conventions, and Common Abbreviations
What’s New to This Edition
Preface to Instructors
Letter to Students
Chapter 1 A Language like English
Detailed Table of Contents
Inside Front Cover Consonant Phonemes of English, Vowel Phonemes of English, Phonetic Alphabet for American English
What’s New to This Edition
The Story of
Language, Language Everywhere
The Power of Language
Judging by Ear
A Question to Discuss: What Makes Us Hear an Accent?
The System of Language
Arbitrariness and Systematicity
A Scholar to Know: Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913)
Human Language versus Animal Communication
Birds and Bees
Chimps and Bonobos
Distinctive Characteristics of Human Language
The Process of Language Change
A Question to Discuss: Can Your Language Peeves Be Rethought?
Mechanics of Language Change
Progress or Decay?
Special Focus: Attitudes about Language Change
Chapter 2 Language and Authority
Who Is in Control?
A Question to Discuss: Does the SAT Know Good Grammar from Bad?
Defining Standard English
Descriptive versus Prescriptive Grammar Rules
Case Study One: Multiple Negatives
Case Study Two: Ain’t
Case Study Three: Who and Whom
The Status of Prescriptive Rules
Spoken versus Written Language
A Question to Discuss: Are We Losing Our Memories?
Dictionaries of English
The Earliest Dictionaries of English
The Beginnings of Modern Lexicography
A Question to Discuss: Should Dictionaries Ever Prescribe?
English Grammar, Usage, and Style
The Earliest Usage Books
Prescriptive versus Descriptive Tendencies in Grammars of English
Modern Approaches to English Usage
Special Focus: Corpus Linguistics
Brief History of Corpus Linguistics
Applications of Corpus Linguistics in the Twenty-first Century
Phonetics and Phonology
The Anatomy of Speech
The International Phonetic Alphabet
Language Change at Work: Is /h/ Disappearing from English?
A Question to Discuss: Does English Have Initial or Final /Z/?
Liquids and Glides
Language Change at Work: The
Phonemes and Allophones
Language Change at Work: Is
Syllables and Phonotactic Constraints
Perception of Sound
Special Focus: History of English Spelling
Should English Spelling Be Reformed?
Open and Closed Classes of Morphemes
A Question to Discuss: Exceptions to the Closedness of Closed Classes?
Bound and Free Morphemes
Inflectional and Derivational Bound Morphemes
Language Change at Work: The Origins of Inflectional -
Affixes and Combining Forms
A Question to Discuss: What about Complex Words That Seem to Have Only One Morpheme?
Ways of Forming English Words
Language Change at Work: Where do Contractions Fit In?
A Question to Discuss: Is It Clipping or Backformation?
Language Change at Work:
Language Change at Work: Success Rates for New Words
Reanalysis, Eggcorns, and Folk Etymology
Frequency of Different Word-Formation Processes
Borrowing and the Multicultural Vocabulary of English
A Question to Discuss: What’s Wrong with
Special Focus: Slang and Creativity
Syntax and Lexical Categories
Open-Class Lexical Categories
Language Change at Work: Is It
A Question to Discuss: Am I Good or Well?
A Question to Discuss: Did I Lie Down or Lay Down?
Closed-Class Lexical Categories
A Question to Discuss: What Is the
Language Change at Work:
Challenges to Categorization
The Suffix -ing
Yes and No
A Question to Discuss: What Can Phonology Reveal about Modifying -
Special Focus: Descriptive Syntax and Prescriptive Rules
Singular Generic They
A Scholar to Know: Noam Chomsky (1928– )
Constituents and Hierarchies
Clauses and Sentences
Phrase Structure Rules
Form and Function
Basic Phrase Structure Trees
Complex Phrase Structure Trees
Language Change at Work: Which Is It,
Reduced Subordinate Clauses
Gerund and Participial Phrases
Tense and Auxiliaries
A Question to Discuss: What Is the
A Question to Discuss: How Did This Passive Sentence
Relative Pronoun Deletion
Does Generative Grammar Succeed?
Special Focus: Syntax and Prescriptive Grammar
Sentence Fragments and Run-on Sentences
Colons, Semicolons, and Comma Splices
The Limits of Reference
The Role of Cognition
The Role of Linguistic Context
A Question to Discuss: How Do Function Words Mean?
The Role of Physical and Cultural Context
Language Change at Work: The Formation of Idioms
A Brief History of Theories of Reference
Plato and Forms
From Reference to Discourse
From Reference to Translation
Hyponym to Homonym (and Other Nyms)
A Question to Discuss: Does the Thesaurus Have a Bad Name?
Organization of the Mental Lexicon
Lexical Prototype Semantics
The Intersection of Semantics, Syntax, and Discourse
How Sentences Mean
Sentences and Context
Processes of Semantic Change
Generalization and Specialization
Euphemism and Dysphemism
Pejoration and Amelioration
Special Focus: Politically Correct Language
Defining Discourse Analysis
Speech Act Theory: Accomplishing Things with Words
Scholars to Know: J. L. Austin (1911–1960) and John Searle (1932– )
Components of Speech Acts
Direct and Indirect Speech Acts
Performative Speech Acts
Evaluating Speech Act Theory
The Cooperative Principle: Successfully Exchanging Information
A Scholar to Know: Robin Tolmach Lakoff (1942-)
A Question to Discuss: Entailment and Implicature
Politeness and Face: Negotiating Relationships in Speaking
Positive and Negative Politeness and Face
A Question: A Question to Discuss: How Do Compliments Work?
Discourse Markers: Signaling Discourse Organization and Authority
Function of Discourse Markers
Language Change at Work: Discourse Markers rom Beowulf to Dude
Types of Discourse Markers
Language Change at Work: Like, I Was Like, What Is Going On with the Word Like?
Conversation Analysis: Taking Turns and the Conversational Floor
Structure of Conversation
Maintenance and Repair
Style Shifting: Negotiating Social Meaning
Style and Creativity
Special Focus: Do Men and Women Speak Differently?
Early Language and Gender Research
Different Models for Gender Difference
Language, Sexuality, and Desire
Language and Identity
Chapter 9 Stylistics
Systematicity and Choice
The World of Texts: Genres and Registers
Variation among Text Types
Which Comes First?
Textual Unity: Cohesion
Elements of Cohesion
Cohesion at Work
Telling Stories: The Structure of Narratives
The Components of a Narrative
Literature and Speech Acts
Speech Acts and Narrative Perspecitives
Speech Acts in Literature
Conversational Structure and Politeness
Reporting Speech: Direct and Indirect
Investigating Word Choice
Language Variation at Work: Literary Forensics
Linguistics into Poetics
Reading like Alice, Humpty Dumpty, and Michael Toolan
Poeticity and Its Axes
A Scholar to Know: Roman Jakobson (1896—1982)
Meter, Rhythm, and Scansion
Prosody and Verse Structure
Sound, Meaning, and Poetic Technique
Language Change at Work: Hip Hop Rhymes
Special Focus: What Makes “Good Writing”?
Chapter 10 Language Acquisition
Theories about Children’s Language Acquisition
Imitation versus Instinct
Noam Chomsky and Universal Grammar
Debates about Language “Hard Wiring”
Language and the Brain
Children Learning Sounds
Language Acquisition Tests
Acquisition of Phonemic Differences
Children Learning Words
Babbling and First Words
Language Acquisition at Work: Imitating Faces
Language Acquisition at Work: Deaf Children Learning ASL
Acquisition of Words and Word Meaning
A Question to Discuss: Why Do We Talk with Our Hands?
Aquistion of Words and Word Meaning
Children Learning Grammar
Patterns of Children’s Errors
Acquisition of Complex Grammatical Constructions
The Role of Parents in Language Acquisition
Features of Parentese
Role of Parentese
Language Acquisition in Special Circumstances
Pidgins and Creoles
Nicaraguan Sign Language
Critical Age Hypothesis
A Case Study: Genie
Acquisition of Languages Later in Life
When Things Go Wrong
Language Variation at Work: Verbal Slips
Special Focus: Children and Bilingualism
Children Learning Two Languages
Bilingual Education Programs
Chapter 11 Language Variation
Dialects versus Languages
Standard and Nonstandard Dialects
A Question to Discuss: Is American English a Dialect or a Language?
Language Change at Work: Pop versus Soda
William Labov’s Research
A Methodological Issue
Sociolinguistics versus Generative Grammar
A Scholar to Know: William Labov (1927— )
Speech Communities and Communities of Practice
A Question to Discuss: Should We Preserve Dialects?
Major Factors in Language Variation within Speech Communities
Race and Ethnicity
Effects of Language Contact
Pidgins and Creoles
Speaker Attitudes and Language Variation
A Question to Discuss: What Does “Linguistic Equality” Mean?
Chapter 12 American Dialects
The Politics of American Dialects
Speakers Who Control Multiple Dialects
Judgments and Humor about Dialects
Dialect Diversity and National Unity
Language Change at Work: The Inconsistency of Language Attitudes
A Sample Walk
Language Change at Work: Why Does Unless Mean 'in case' in Pennsylvania?
The Emergence of Regional Dialects
Naturally Occurring Internal Language Change
Language Change at Work: Regional Food Terms
Language Change at Work: A Dragonfly by Any Other Name
The History of Regional Dialects in the United States
The Beginnings of American English
The Northern Dialect Region
The Southern Dialect Region
The Midland Dialect Region
The Western Dialect Region
Dialects within Dialect Regions
Two Case Studies of Regional Variation
Language Change at Work: Jack, Will, and Jenny in the Swamp
Slang and Jargon versus Dialects
Two Case Studies of Social Variation
African American English
Special Focus: The Ebonics Controversy
A Scholar to Know: Geneva Smitherman (1940-)
Chapter 13 History of English: Old to Early Modern English
Old English (449—1066): History of Its Speakers
When Did English Begin?
Which Germanic Dialect Is “Old English”?
Language Change at Work: How English Was Written Down
Where Do the Names English and England Originate?
Old English Lexicon
Old Norse Borrowing
Native English Word Formation
Old English Grammar
The Origins of Modern English Noun Inflections
The Gender of Things
The Familiarity of Personal Pronouns
The Many Faces of Modifiers
The Origins of Some Modern English Irregular Verbs
Variation in Word Order
Middle English (1066—1476): History of Its Speakers
The Norman Conquest
A Scholar to Know: J. R. R. Tolkien the Philologist
The Renewal of English
The Emergence of a Standard
Middle English Dialects
The Middle English Lexicon
Word Formation Processes
Middle English Grammar
The Loss of Inflections and Its Effects
The Inflections That Survive
Early Modern English (1476—1776): History of Its Speakers
The Printing Press
Attitudes about English
The Study of English
A Question to Discuss: How Do We Preserve the Evidence of a Language?
Early Modern English Lexicon
Greek and Latin Borrowing
Semantic Change in the Native Lexicon
Early Modern English Grammar
Older Grammatical Retentions
Developments in Morphosyntax
Language Change at Work: The Invention of pea
The Fate of Final-e
Language Change at Work: The Great Vowel Shift
Chapter 14 History of English: Modern and Future English
Modern English (1776—Present): Social Forces at Work
Prescription and the Standard Variety
Language Change at Work: The Debated Origins of O.K.
Modern English: Language Change in Progress
A Question to Discuss: “Hey, You Guys, Is This Grammaticalization?”
The Status of English in the United States
Language Variation at Work: The Myth of the “German Vote” in 1776
A Question to Discuss: Official State Languages
The Status of English around the World
The Meaning of a “Global Language”
English as a Global Language
The Future of English as a Global Language
What Happens after Modern English?
Language Change at Work: Retronymy and Reduplication
English and Electronically-Mediated Communication
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About the Author(s)
Anne Curzan is Associate Professor of English at the University of Michigan, where she also holds an appointment in the Department of Linguistics and School of Education. In 2007, she received an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. She is the author of Gender Shifts in the History of English (Cambridge UP, 2003) and co-author of First Day to Final Grade: A Graduate Student’s Guide to Teaching (U of Michigan P, 2006). She currently serves as co-editor of the Journal of English Linguistics.
Michael Adams teaches English language and literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. For fifteen years, he taught at Albright College, in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he also served as chair of the Department of English and associate academic dean; he has been a visiting professor at Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Iceland. He is the author of Slayer Slang: ABuffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon (Oxford UP, 2003) and Slang: The People’s Poetry (Oxford UP, 2009), as well as contributing editor to Word Histories and Mysteries: Abracadabra to Zeus (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). He was editor of Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America for several years; currently, he is editor of the quarterly journal American Speech.
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