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“turgid and outdated” 
“very out of date” 
“totally outdated”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