Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features links to interesting, instructive, or thought-provoking readings about the English language and related disciplines. The selections could be anywhere from light and humorous to serious and scholarly, and they range widely from the reading, writing, listening, and speaking disciplines to the teaching and learning of English.

How spoken American English took shape in the United States

We have adopted American English in the Philippines, but do we know what variety of spoken American English we are actually using? Do we also know what the “best” American English there is?

Speaking American

In Speaking American: A History of English in the United States (Oxford University Press, 207 pages), Richard W. Bailey observes that what to an individual American mind constitutes “proper” English is fluid largely depending on geography, and as such has no dominant urban standard. He then traces the assorted ways of speaking English across the United States, investigating the evolution of the language in half-century segments around these nine influential centers: Chesapeake Bay (1600-1650), Boston (1650-1700), Charleston (1700-1750), Philadelphia (1750-1800), New Orleans (1800-1850), New York (1850-1900), Chicago (1900-1950), Los Angeles (1950-2000), and Cyberspace (2000-present).

In a review of Bailey’s Speaking American in the January 20, 2012 issue of The New York Times, John McWhorter says he finds the book a useful, handy tour in imprinting a lesson sadly obscure to very many people—that as Bailey puts it, “Those who seek stability in English seldom find it; those who wish for uniformity become laughingstocks.” But McWhorter observes that a challenge for the book is the sparseness of evidence on earlier forms of American English: “The human voice was unrecorded before the late 19th century, and until the late 20th recordings of casual speech, especially of ordinary people, were rare. Meanwhile, written evidence of local, as opposed to standard, language has tended to be cursory and of shaky accuracy.”

Read John McWhorter’s “How Americans Have Reshaped Language” in The New York Times now!

The late Richard Bailey is the author Images of English: A Cultural History of the Language and Nineteenth-Century English, and the associate editor for The Oxford Companion to the English Language. A long-time faculty member at the University of Michigan, he retired in 2007 as Fred Newton Scott Collegiate Professor of English.

In “Defining Words, Without the Arbiters,” an article in the December 31, 2011 issue of The New York Times, Anne Eisenberg writes about Wordnik, the vast online dictionary that doesn’t do what traditional print dictionaries do—enlist lexicographers to scrutinize new words as they pop up, weighing their merits and eventually accepting some of them. Instead, Wordnik uses automatic programs to search the Internet, combing the texts of news feeds, archived broadcasts, the blogosphere, Twitter posts and dozens of other sources as raw material of Wordnik citations. “Dictionary definitions tend to be out of date or incomplete,” Erin McKean, a founder of the company, says in the article. “Our goal is to find examples on the Web that use the word so clearly that you can understand its meaning from reading the sentence.”

Read Anne Eisenberg’s “Defining Words, Without the Arbiters” in The New York Times now!

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