As teachers of the history of the English language, we have long felt a need for a book such as this. The most commonly used textbooks, we believe, tend to emphasize internal history at the expense of external context, or to treat the latter in a way that does not fully utilize the advances in sociolinguistics in the past quarter century. We hope that the diverse essays contained herein will help to rectify this situation by demonstrating the ways in which specific varieties of the, English language have always been utilized by specific individuals or groups for specific reasons. It is this use of the language to serve a broad range of communicative functions that both sustains and changes the language and that links speakers of English today with those from the past.
The primary audience of this book, then, is the student new to the study of linguistics in general and the history of English in particular. By this we mean only that the essays have not been written with the assumption that the reader will have a great deal of familiarity with the facts and concepts under discussion. Such a student may well be enrolled in a class on the history of English, but the issues of this book, we think, will also be important to those studying sociolinguistics, sociology, anthropology, and history.
Something should be said here about the style and content of these essays. Given the focus of the collection, as editors we did not prescribe a set list of topics to each contributor; the contributors decided on their own which issues were most relevant in the areas they examine. If the advantage of a more systematic approach is the sense of comprehensiveness it implies, the disadvantage, for this collection, is that systemization might obscure the dynamics of different critics using different methods to examine different issues; and such dynamics are characteristic of sociolinguistic inquiry. In the same vein, the distinctive English voices of the contributors--American, Australian, British, Indian--have not been copy-edited into a deceptive homogeneity. The contributions here reflect the variant orthographic practices and styles of the English language.
In compiling this book we have had the good fortune to benefit from the suggestions of a number of individuals. We would first like to thank the contributors for sharing their expertise in their respective areas. Edward Finegan was especially helpful and encouraging at an early stage in this project, and Cynthia Read, our editor at Oxford, has been both patient and resourceful. We would also like to thank Frederic G. Cassidy, Geoffrey Leech, and Peter Trudgill for their advice and interest.
Madison, Wisconsin T. W. M.
June 1991 C.T.S.