Unlocking the English Language

Robert W. Burchfield, Author Hill & Wang $18.95 (202p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9490-5
``Phooey,'' ``airport'' and ``pacifism'' are among the words that entered the English language between 1900 and 1930; more recent coinages include ``hi-fi,'' ``baby boom'' and ``yuppie.'' Language, we are shown here, is a fast-changing medium, and not only in the area of vocabulary: lexicography is a battlefield where different social classes, schools of grammar, philosophies and far-flung speakers vie to impose their viewpoints. In an elegant, involving introduction to some of the thorniest issues in modern language use and abuse, Burchfield, who has served as chief editor of the Oxford English Dictonary , ponders the ``fast speech rules'' that govern daily conversation and bemoans the ``devastating loss of religious mystery'' in modernized versions of sacred texts. How should lexicographers deal with derogatory racial, ethnic and religious terms? At what historical point did American English become different from British English? Burchfield tackles these and other questions in scholarly essays sure to intrigue anyone who loves words and language. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1991
Release date: 01/01/1991
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