Alternative Histories of English

By Richard Watts; Peter Trudgill | Go to book overview

Part I

The history of non-standard varieties of English

The purpose of this section of the book is to focus on aspects of the histories of as many as possible of those varieties of English which have often - or even always - been neglected in histories of the language. These are varieties which have been marginalised by historical linguists because they have been regarded as non-standard, and/or which have been ignored because they have been considered to be socially or geographically peripheral in some way. We would point out, as justification for this, that there are very many more nonstandard than standard varieties of English in the world; that they are spoken by many more people than Standard English; and that to ignore them does our understanding of the history of the English language no service at all. Non-standard dialects of English have histories too, and these histories are sometimes especially helpful because, as a result of the absence of standardisation, many of the forces of linguistic change are played out in these varieties in a much more unfettered and revealing way than in the standard dialect. We would also point out that the disregarding of varieties of English simply because the people who speak them are not White Englishmen who have for centuries been established in the southeast of England is also not only totally ethnocentric, anglocentric, 'austrocentric' (as Katie Wales says) and unjustifiable, but is also short-sighted in that it disregards an enormous mass of historical data from some of the most interesting and diachronically revealing varieties of the language in existence.

The chapters in this part of the book by Wales, on northern British English, and by Gordon and Sudbury, on the Englishes of the southern hemisphere, try to redress the geographical balance. This is also the focus of Trudgill's paper - on lesser-known varieties of the language - which looks at the native-speaker Englishes of a surprisingly large number of small and often unknown communities in different parts of the world which are nearly always ignored by linguistics scholars and which remain untreated in most historical linguistic discussions. The bias against non-standard varieties is tackled in the chapter by Poplack, van Herk and Harvie, which takes as its starting point the remarkable Ottawa Grammar Resource on Early Variability in English, with a particular focus on implications for the study of the history of African American Vernacular English, which in turn also does something to rectify

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