Monday, October 01, 2018

Which History of the English Language textbook should I use?

Back in early 2017 I asked a group of estimable colleagues (aka my Facebook friends) to give me their opinions on which of the many, many History of the English Language textbooks is the best. The context was that I wanted "Something for the students to read to accompany a big intro lecture course, ideally with exercises that can be used in tutorials". You can click the link for the full version, but here's a summary of the options, with people's comments (in alphabetical order by author surname).

I've also given each book a special George's mates rating, from one þ (terrible) to five þþþþþ (well-loved). It must be kept in mind that this rating, like most quantitative measures of academic quality, is entirely subjective and probably worthless. They're all pros who know what they're doing, but there's lots of groupthink on my wall, and on the whole these people tend more towards Hardcore Linguistics than towards English philology. Anyway, the rating is just my interpretation of what was said, and your needs will be specific to you.

If you have other views you'd be prepared to share, please feel free to comment below! (Some well-known books that weren't mentioned at all include Culpeper 2005 and Millward & Hayes 2011.)

Barber, Charles, Joan Beal, & Philip Shaw. 2012. The English language.

2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

George's mates rating: þþþ

“very readable but not so easy to find specific details in”

Baugh, Albert C., & Thomas Cable. 2013. A history of the English language.

6th edition. London: Routledge.

George's mates rating: þ

“turgid and outdated” 
“very out of date” 
“totally outdated”

Brinton, Laurel J., & Leslie Arnovick. 2016. The English language: a linguistic history.

3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

George's mates rating: þþþþþ

“not bad, as far as I can judge”
“I like Brinton and Arnovick too, a lot … Only problem is: there is no ebook, and the paperback is 75 quid, so it's a bit pricey.” 
“I really like Brinton and Arnovick … Tons of exercises, with the answers at the end, and i like the level of linguistics; challenging but still accessible.”

Fennell, Barbara. 2001. A History of English: A Sociolinguistic Approach.

Oxford: Wiley.

George's mates rating: þþþþ

“I think it does the best job of including actual linguistic info, not just language and society, but also not trying to teach Old English in its entirety.”

Freeborn, Dennis. 2006. From Old English to Standard English.

London: Macmillan.

George's mates rating: þþþ

“contains lots of extracts from primary sources and has an accompanying workbook that you can pillage for exercises, but it's a mess as a textbook”
“excellent but not as a text”

van Gelderen, Elly. 2014. A history of the English language.

Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

George's mates rating: þþþþþ

“the best w.r.t. linguistics”
“Albeit quite generative…”
“comes the next closest [after Fennell] to striking this balance [including actual linguistic info, not just language and society, but also not trying to teach Old English in its entirety], I think”
“I like van Gelderen for the current approach, structural / socio angles and my guess is that the exercises would work well”
“Hogg & Denison or van Gelderen, but it depends how intro you need it to be and whether it's aimed at Linguistics/English language students or English literature ones”

Gramley, Stephan. 2011. The history of English: an introduction.

London: Routledge.

George's mates rating: þþþ

“I quite like Stephan Gramley’s one”
“Gramley is good … Both [this and another book] have accompanying websites”

Hogg, Richard, & David Denison (eds.). 2012. A history of the English language.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

George's mates rating: þþþ

“there is [also] Hogg/Denison (CUP), but … [it doesn't] have exercises”
“Hogg & Denison or van Gelderen, but it depends how intro you need it to be and whether it's aimed at Linguistics/English language students or English literature ones”

Johnson, Keith. 2015. The history of early English.

London: Routledge.

George's mates rating: þþþ

“Keith Johnson's the history of early English 2015 (… with exercises) [is good]. Both [this and another book] have accompanying websites”

Mugglestone, Lynda (ed.). 2012. The Oxford history of English.

Oxford: Oxford University Press.

George's mates rating: þþþ

“a good amount of detail, chapters written by specialists, but no exercises”
“Mugglestone (OUP) … [doesn't] have exercises”

Pyles, Thomas, & John Algeo. 2010. The origins and development of the English language.

6th edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage.

George's mates rating: þþþ

“I used Pyles and Algeo, which I didn’t particularly like, although the workbook is quite good”

Strang, Barbara. 1970. A history of English.

London: Routledge.

George's mates rating: þþ

“does go backwards, but the book is not really useable at all”

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Ritter Sport Summer 2018

The selection of Ritter Sport this summer is pretty uninspired, though it's not that they taste bad. Two of the three have been sampled before. One of them as recently as last summer:

"Eiskakao-Creme: 7/10
Nice, but it's pretty uninspired compared to the other two, and reminds me a lot of Eiscafé (which recurred in 2014 and 2016). Are Ritter running out of ideas?!!111"

Sadly, it would appear that the answer is yes.

Another one, Buttermilch-Zitrone, has actually come up twice before: once in summer 2016 and once the year before in summer 2015. It's down on the list with two different ratings: the earlier version with an English name and a higher score.

"Buttermilk & Lemon: 7/10
With a smooth, consistent tanginess, this too is nothing to write home about, but nevertheless a pleasure to suck on. Given that the original Lemon (which is one of my all-time least favourites, and which I haven't seen in a while) was so poor, I don't quite know how they could have got this so right, but the fact remains that they did. White chocolate worked just nicely here."

"Buttermilch Zitrone: 6/10
This one's certainly flavoursome - in fact, a bit too much so for me. The lemon packs a punch and overwhelms the softer taste of the buttermilk, except for the fact that the whole combination is also a little bit too sweet. Recommended if you want to give your tastebuds a spring clean, or need waking up."

I feel like both earlier versions of me were rather harsh. This is a really enjoyable one and I'd rate it more highly - maybe even 8. But I'm nothing if not inconsistent.

The third Summer 2018 variety is at least a new one, and is labelled as such.

Himmlische Beere: 8/10
Very, very sweet. But also powerful, and crunchy. A solid all-round contender for those with a sweet tooth (and if you don't have one, why are you eating Ritter Sport?).

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Arons saga svarts (The Saga of Aaron Swartz)

I've been taking a MOOC in Medieval Icelandic Sagas, and one of the final assessments involved creating your own saga introduction. I thought I'd go one better and create a very short saga (short, unfortunately, by the nature of the subject matter). It's about a hero for our times, the hacktivist Aaron Swartz. Generally I've tried to keep to the William Morris/Eiríkur Magnússon style.


There was a man named Aron, bynamed svartr, who dwelled in California, far west-over-the-sea, beyond the lands of the Skraelings. He was the son of Robert svartr, who had to wife Susan, and his brothers were named Noah and Benjamin. Aron svartr was a great law-speaker, and the most open and generous of men.

In those days Earl Sevier had the kingdom of academic publishing. Earl Sevier hight build a great fortification, which men called J-stórr, surrounded it with an unbreakable wall called Pay-wall, and commanded that all academic works be placed within; but a toll was levied on those who wished to come there. This liked men ill, for that the Earl would in nowise give boot for these works, though authors had worked hard to craft them, and even the authors must pay the toll.

Now it must be said of academic works in these times that they have a wondrous property, that they multiply beyond number, so that a man may take them and they will eternally be replenished, like unto the mead that flows from Heiðrún’s teats in Valhalla; and therefore men deemed it the greatest of ills that Earl Sevier wanted all of them for himself.

Aron svartr went up to J-Stórr by night, and cunningly unlocked the trap-door that the thralls of MIT used to gain entry to the fortification by day. Aron was wise in matters of building and knew that the academic works were piled high and waxed exceeding heavy, so that they began to trickle out through the trapdoor, and lay in the open, where all men could get at them; but they also remained within Pay-wall. But before dawn, Aron returned by stealth and closed the trapdoor, and so it went for many nights.

Now an old carline of Earl Sevier's household at J-Stórr had the sharpest of ears and the meanest of spirits, and heard the trickle of academic works escaping. One evening she bade the Earl climb to the ramparts of Pay-wall, and hidden there they saw Aron svartr come to the trapdoor and prop it open.

Then the carline whetted the Earl that he should kill Aaron svartr for bringing the name of his household into disrepute. Earl Sevier said that this should not be, “for harder it is to a man wise in the law, that the law itself be his head-bane”.

That summer Aron svartr was summoned to the Thing, and friends of the Earl set down a suit against him. And men dared not speak against Earl Sevier because of his great wealth and power, though Aron svartr was a friend to all men, and he was called an outlaw, though the suit never came to an end. Aron did not come to the judgement, but he hanged himself, and that was the end of him.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ritter Sport Spring 2018

Sampling these was extremely challenging, as I am currently on a diet that allows strictly no chocolate. I hope you all appreciate how I've deliberately forced myself to go against my own wishes for the sake of my adoring public.

Zitronen-Waffel: 7.5/10
Very potent, and has a creamy-sugary component to it too. Actually the waffle itself is largely lost in the noise, but does provide a not unpleasant crunch. The most annoying part of this one is that it tends to fall to bits when you try to eat it. Half a point off for that.

Johannisbeer-Streusel: 8.5/10
Didn’t we have this one recently? I don’t really care, since it’s excellent. Sharp, creamy, crunchy. Mmmm.

Honig Crisp: 7/10
Maybe I'm growing picky, but this one didn't quite do it for me. Is it possible for a Ritter Sport to be too sweet? If so, that's what's going on here. The crispiness isn't quite salient enough somehow. Not that I didn't enjoy eating it at all, of course.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Winter-Kreationen 2017

Rejoice, for winter is upon us! Or, at least, Ritter Sport's Winter-Kreationen are upon us, and it didn't take me long to get hold of them.

Spekulatius: 9/10
It's amazing that this one didn't exist before (well, I've never seen it). It's basically a variant on Knusperkeks, except that the giant biscuit in the middle is a speculoos, with its signature cocktail of spices. I'd rate it just as highly as the original Knusperkeks.

Weisse Zimt Crisp: 6/10
This one is absolutely bursting with flavour: you open the packet and an explosion of cinnamon assails your nostrils. Unfortunately for me, that is a rather traumatic experience, as it brought back memories of the time a friend knocked a jar of cinnamon powder off the shelf in my kitchen and it smashed, showering cinnamon everywhere. I had to live with the consequences for months. So maybe it's just me, but I can't quite deal with how cinnamonny this is. It's also an extremely sweet combination, with nothing to cut the inherent cloyingness of the white chocolate, though the crunchiness is good.

Gebrannte Mandel: 6.5/10
Meh. Tasty enough, good and crunchy, but more or less just works like any other version with tiny smashed up nuts in it - not very distinctive.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Fame and fortune: the Cambridge effect

One thing that you often hear when at Cambridge, usually said by people not at Cambridge, is that you're going to university with people who will one day be famous. For me, at least, that never seemed very realistic at the time. I'm feeling reflective now, though, so here's a quick look back.

I was involved in at least 20 theatrical productions in Cambridge, depending on how you count, but the first one was a biggie: in December 2004, when this blog was in its infancy, a bunch of us got on a bus and performed Romeo and Juliet in venues around Europe (mostly Switzerland), then at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge in January 2005. This is the European Theatre Group tour, and, considering that it's featured folks like Stephen Fry and Sir Derek Jacobi, it's a good place to start in more ways than one.

My role was as a humble "fresher techie". I'd assumed that my experience of occasionally pressing buttons on a 20-year-old lighting deck and carting props around for the Tideswell Community Players would set me up well for this. In fact, I was touring with several people who'd worked with state-of-the-art sound and lighting setups at their secondary school, who had serious ambitions to go into technical theatre, and who took the whole thing very seriously. I certainly learned a huge amount - it was another instance where I had to rein in my inherent arrogance and lap up what was thrown my way. Once or twice, being able to speak semi-decent French or German actually made me more useful than just another pair of hands. Most importantly, I guess, I had a great time. Anyway, enough about me. More important are the interesting people I was touring with.

Twelve years later, the fame thing is very clear when you look at the cast. The most striking fact is that, of the eleven of them, six now have their own Wikipedia pages. Obviously that's not a perfect proxy for stardom, but not a bad indicator of success either, given that all these people are broadly the same age as me. The standout is probably Lydia Wilson, who played Juliet and has now played a good-sized role in a flippin' Star Trek film, but it's hard to compare. Two of the other cast members, Simon Evans and Alexandra Spencer-Jones, are now successful directors in their own right (as is the director of the play, Max Webster). The other cast members I know about are also doing just grand for themselves. On the crew side, the only one with a Wikipedia article that I know of is designer Simon Fujiwara, but of course crew by their nature prefer to stay in the shadows, on the whole.

What does all of this mean? I revisited this lot out of curiosity, not because I wanted to make a point, and I still don't. There are lots of points to be made. The obvious ones are about nepotism and about the Cambridge brand value. While there's obviously something to be said for both of those, it's also the case that, to the extent to which one of those is explanatory, the other is less so; and there are also questions about the direction of causation. The other obvious point is that people who go to Cambridge are often very capable and (perhaps even more importantly) incredibly ambitious. And that there are established routes into the theatre world that people are aware of should not be very surprising to anyone: it's not a huge industry and by its nature has to cluster around particular cities, neighbourhoods, and theatres. Furthermore, who you are, and who you can be, matters in theatre - for actors it probably matters more than anything else, and so it would be hard to envisage a theatre industry that wasn't nepotistic at least to some degree by necessity. Good looks don't hurt either (and I now know that good looks are much more a matter of hard work than I was aware in 2004-5).

So you're welcome to read into this retrospective what you like. It's clearly illustrative of something.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Lactose-free, gluten-free milk chocolate

A quick and easy Ritter rating:

Vollmilch Laktosefrei: 9/10
The reason this one is easy is that it literally tastes exactly the same as its non-lactose-free, non-gluten-free counterpart. If only it were always this straightforward! (NB: apparently this one contains no more than 0.1% lactose.)