American English: History, structure and usage

by Julie S Amberg and Deborah J Vause (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009): 248pp, £23.99 (pbk), ISBN 978 0 521 61788 8.

Reviewed by Barbara Horn

Buy this book

This book contains a lot of basic information. Some of the exercises require research and encourage thinking, and the 'Further reading' at the end of each chapter seems useful. These are its positive points. Below is a summary of its shortcomings.

Too basic and superficial

Intended as a textbook for undergraduates, the tone and structure of the text make it more appropriate for secondary school students. The information is often too basic and superficial. Each chapter opens with a list of 'key terms'. These are childish and unnecessary – the words are emboldened at first use in the text, and sometimes in the summary too – and wastefully displayed in a single column.

The 'Contents' occupies seven pages. Below each chapter title is a list of every heading – including exercises and boxes – with no distinction between the levels. There is a two-page list of figures, none of which the reader would want to look up separately from the text, and a list of tables.

There are five blank pages at the end of the book. It's easy to conclude that the layout was devised to extend the length of this book by a signature – or more if you consider how inane and unnecessary most of the poorly reproduced half-tones are: one is even used twice.

Not professionally copy-edited?

The glossary includes such terms as 'accent', 'dictionary', 'word' and 'writing'. The index includes some entries that are referred to only in the glossary, and they are not always identical terms.

Perhaps the book wasn't professionally copy-edited or proofread. That would account for all the problems mentioned, as well as: the occasional errors of capitalisation; the frequent poor placement of cross-references, which are only to illustrations and not to text; the inconsistent and unnecessary use of italics for Bible, Torah and Koran; and a scattering of tautologies.

You can learn something about American English and linguistics from this book, but it might be even more useful as a project for a trainee copy-editor.

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