Language Myths and the History of English

Language Myths and the History of English

Language Myths and the History of English

Language Myths and the History of English

Synopsis

Language Myths and the History of English aims to deconstruct the myths that are traditionally reproduced as factual accounts of the historical development of English. Using concepts and interpretive sensibilities developed in the field of sociolinguistics over the past 40 years, Richard J. Watts unearths these myths and exposes their ideological roots. His goal is not to construct an alternative discourse, but to offer alternative readings of the historical data. Watts raises the question of what we mean by a linguistic ideology, and whether any discourse--a hegemonic discourse, an alternative discourse, or even a deconstructive discourse--can ever be free of it. The book argues that a naturalized discourse is always built on a foundation of myths, which are all too easily taken as true accounts.

Excerpt

Books take a long time to fix themselves in the mind of the author and to emerge as a (more or less) coherent text, and the present book is certainly no exception to this general pattern. The gestation period in this case, however, can be traced back very far into my own past, as far back as the time when I began to sense an interest in language, languages and the central place that language occupied in the social and cultural fabric of the communities into which I was socialised, in which I lived and grew up, and out of which I finally had to break. I remember being told, in my preadolescent days, not to say this or that, or to avoid this or that pronunciation because it sounded so “horrible”, or to speak “grammatically”—the typical kinds of comment aimed at children of lower-middle-class origin in late 1940s and 1950s Britain, which unwittingly prompted many of them to do the very opposite! So I learned at an early stage in my life that people have some decidedly odd ideas about language in which they believe fervently, and I later learned, as a young university graduate, that it’s not such a good idea to try to convince them of the “error” of their linguistic ways.

When, in the 1970s, I began to develop an interest in the history of the English language and then to teach the subject to Swiss undergraduates, I also realised, with the benefit of my training in second-language acquisition, pragmatics and sociolinguistics, that there were also some decidedly odd ideas about language circulating in the heads of first- and second-year students that I had to battle against. Even more dispiriting was the discovery that the canonical ways in which “the history of English” was taught, including the textbooks that were in use at university level, seemed to preserve many of the misconceptions about English which I recognised from the admonishments of my own family in my youth. As a consequence, I decided to ask awkward questions in my teaching and writing and to encourage generation after generation of students . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.