The Oxford History of English
edited by Lynda Mugglestone (Oxford University Press, 2006): 504pp, £17.99 (hbk), ISBN 0 19 924931 8.
Reviewed by Caroline Petherick
The blurb states unequivocally: 'This book will appeal to everyone with a keen interest in the English language and its development.' To this rather sweeping statement, I would add the mild caution: '… everyone with an interest so keen that they are prepared to work their way through a lot of dense academic prose to extract the nuggets of information therein'.
Depth of knowledge
This is a multi-author book that contains a number of in-depth studies charting the development of the English language. They range from an examination of its precursors to the effects of 21st-century globalization and a prediction about the long-term consequences of the internet.
I am well impressed by the insertion of the many intertextual references that draw these papers together into a cohesive whole (e.g. 'However, as Chapter 4 has already revealed and a period which will be discussed in more detail in Chapters 8 and 12 and as the preceding chapter has stressed …'). I am also impressed by the manifest depth of authorial knowledge and by the numerous examples that, together with their translations into standard current British English, provide a lot of learning in a small space.
I am less impressed by what I see as the unnecessarily obscure style of many of the papers – but you may decide to take my opinion with a pinch of salt as this is a particular bee in my bonnet. However, I would like to make the point that, after his opening salvo – 'It is a widespread literary trope to anthropomorphize English' – David Crystal in his finale prose, while no less informative than the other dozen-odd papers, provides the easiest reading of the lot, by far. Way to go, Honorary Vice-president!