A Social History of English has been in print for thirteen years, and a new edition is clearly overdue. But revising it has not been easy. Not only has a wealth of new material been published that relates to this vast field, but the world now seems a very different place, so that new perspectives are needed on several issues.
In English schools, successive Conservative administrations have implemented a 'National' Curriculum, with a strong focus on the teaching of 'Standard' English. Always linked conceptually, the two terms in quotation marks now require a degree of theoretical exploration which would have been desirable in the first edition, but which is now urgently necessary. One reason for this is the quite unexpected revival of nationalist ideology in many parts of the world, another the related surge of interest among English academics in the notion of 'Englishness'. In this new edition I have tried to be more discriminating and self-critical where my discussion touches on the issue of nationalism, especially in chapter six. And on the question of standardisation, I have revised chapter two in the light of recent political events and of important new work on the topic. This emphasis may seem Anglo-centric, but an Olympian view of English as a World Language is impossible, even if it were desirable.
The new edition has also been expanded to include a chapter dealing with textual extracts. Here the reader will find not only examples of English from various times and places, but also a discussion of some key issues in their analysis and interpretation. My intention here was partly to question the widely-held view that there exists a settled and agreed 'History of English' (as is suggested by such book-titles as The History of English). In doing this I have been guided by the work not of linguists but of historians, some of whom have in recent years made some invaluable contributions to the study of language, and who have written openly about the nature of history as a form of storytelling. As