English in Its Social Contexts: Essays in Historical Sociolinguistics

By Tim William MacHan; Charles T. Scott | Go to book overview
English built almost exclusively in wood. As a consequence, so the argument goes, we do not have available for modern study the same kind of enduring monument of stonework that the Romans left as a more permanent record of their involvement in early British history. Similarly, even those of us who are the cultural descendents of the early English seem to find little in our social, cultural, and temperamental make-up that we owe directly to our Germanic forebears. Even though we might know that we speak a language that is a lineal descendant of Old English, we also know that the language has changed--just as dramatically as the nature and needs of its speakers have changed.All these statements are true enough; they are less a testimony to historical myopia than an acknowledgment of historical fact. However, they ignore a real, if less obvious, accomplishment of the early Anglo-Saxon period: learning to write the English language. A nearly universal, vernacular literacy so pervades our lives, our culture, our social and political structures that we speakers of English can take for granted our ability to write the language. Surely, the idea of vernacular literacy did not originate in England, but the impulse of our forebears to experiment with writing their own speech greatly affected the development and discrimination of Western European modes of thought. Like Bede and Alcuin, we too love learning and write our intellectual histories. Unlike them, but because of them and their time, we need not write our histories in another's language. We pay unconscious tribute to them as we conduct the business of literacy in our mother tongue, which they knew only how to speak. We learned to build our most permanent monuments during the Old English period. It is our Anglo-Saxon heritage that we chose as building material--neither wood nor stone, but the ink and parchment of the written word.
WORKS CITED
Campbell, A. 1959. Old English Grammar. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Colgrave, B., and R. A.B. Mynors. 1969. Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Davies, Wendy, and Hayo Vierck. 1974. "The Contexts of Tribal Hidage: Social Aggregates and Settlement Patterns." Frühmittelalterliche Studien 8:223-293.
Dumville, David N. 1977. "Kingship, Genealogies and Regnal Lists." In P. H. Sawyer and I. N. Wood, eds., Early Medieval Kingship. Leeds, England: The University of Leeds Press. Pp. 72-104.
Goody, Jack. 1977. The Domestication of the Savage Mind. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
_____. 1974. "On the Use of the Present to Explain the Past." In Luigi Heilmann, ed., Proceedings of the Eleventh International Congress of Linguists. Bologna: Società editrice il Mulino. Pp. 825-851.
_____, M. Yaeger, and R. Steiner. 1972. A Quantitative Study of Sound Change in Progress. Philadelphia: U.S. Regional Survey.
Metcalf, D. M. 1977. "Monetary Affairs in Mercia in the Time of Aethelbald." In A. Dor nier , ed., Mercian Studies. Leicester: Leicester University Press. Pp. 87-106.

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