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Do You Speak American? by Robert MacNeil

Do You Speak American? (2005)

by Robert MacNeil, William Cran

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
I am not a linguist, but I was raised by one. As a result of hearing different languages and different language dialects throughout my life, I have a love of listening to the various dialects of America (and other countries), which is why I picked up this book. I loved the way it was written, both with an educational tone and with a certain humor.

Being the average, curious American had an advantage when reading through the pages, since the topics covered were widespread. They would have to be, since the book is meant to be a companion to the PBS show and is not very long. I would imagine that serious linguists who are looking for a very deep look into American dialects in general or for something on specific American dialects probably won't find new information here, while those wanting to casually dip into the subject will find themselves happily reading to the end.

I will happily hold out this book to anyone who is curious about American English because I think that a better understanding of language and dialect help us better understand the cultures we aren't always exposed to and bring us to a deeper understanding of those around us. Maybe some day there will be a time when a well educated man won't have to lose his southern accent to be accepted as one of the top in his field. Until then, we can pass around the knowledge within these pages and help people understand the links between dialect and our automatic responses to language itself. ( )
  mirrani | Aug 10, 2014 |
A survey of the way English is spoken around the United States, and of the issues raised by the differences in speech between various regions and various social groups. The book focusses much less on specific differences than on broader issues -- the Hispanic influence, Black English, prescriptive vs. evolutionary views of language -- and is well worth reading. ( )
  annbury | Sep 5, 2010 |
This book was written as a "companion" to the PBS series of the same name. As a linguistics teacher, I have shown that series in my classes several times, so that probably coloured my reading of this book a little. Some of the writing comes so verbatim from the series that I could hear MacNeil's voice in my head as I was reading. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was quite a bit of information in the book that was not covered in the series. The same format is followed where the authors start in the northeast and explain language changes towards the south and then west, but each chapter has a bit more in-depth information than was shown on TV, and the last chapter on computer language presents quite a bit of new material.

This book is primarily written for a lay audience, which is great in its way. However, linguists hoping to use this as a teaching resource should keep that in mind. This book introduces some linguistic terminology, but only briefly, so it is no replacement for other texts on sociolinguistics, and would really only be appropriate as assigned reading in an introductory classroom. I do wish I had had it as a reference when showing the series in my classes, as it would have been nice to have some of the extra info to contribute to lectures about the series.

Another downside, of both the series and the book, is that there is not a lot of focus on the plains and Rocky Mountain regions of the U.S. There seems to be an assumption that the most interesting changes going on linguistically in the west happen in California, and that there is a lot of homogeneity in the rest of the western half of the country. Having taught in Indiana, where my students were very much able to distinguish Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Dakotas accents from their own midwestern dialects and interested in how those differences got to be there, it would have been nice to have a bit more focus on the distinctions in that part of the country.

The book also concentrates primarily on racial and ethnic variation and not so much on gender, age, or other kinds of variation. This thus lends a bit of a heavy feel to the text, as so many of the issues dealt with highlight the negative consequences of linguistic stereotyping and the state of race relations in the U.S. today. These are important issues to talk about, but without being balanced out by positive messages about what linguistic diversity allows people to accomplish culturally, they can become overwhelming.

Finally, both the book and series were shorter and less in depth than the authors' previous collaboration, "The Story of English." Fans of that endeavour may be slightly disappointed to find that this project is a little more narrow in the scope of things it covers (out of all the possible things it could cover, not just because American English is necessarily less broad a topic than world Englishes) and a bit more quotidian in its approach. This is the kind of book I might recommend to someone who asks me what it is a linguist does, or why people talk so differently; however, though this is not necessarily a bad thing, anyone who wants to have a more serious look at these issues will leave wanting a little something more. ( )
4 vote quaintlittlehead | Nov 1, 2009 |
An easy read, but not a particularly enlightening one. I've taken just enough linguistics (in college) and read just enough pop linguistics that this book didn't have much new to say to me. Yeah, there are prescriptivists and descriptivists. Yeah, people in Brooklyn sound different than people in California.

There were a few moments of interest, but nothing striking enough that I remember even a stray particular fact. When the authors delve into modern discussion of slang (especially teenage), they manage to sound like hopeless squares, despite their gormless, eager efforts to sound liberal-minded and in the know. ( )
4 vote lyzadanger | Jun 27, 2007 |
Very interesting book for language lovers based on the PBS series done by the authors, who also wrote "The Story of English." ( )
  sunnydale | Oct 3, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert MacNeilprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cran, Williammain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Our language is constantly changing. Like the Mississippi, it keeps forging new channels and abandoning old ones, picking up debris, depositing unwanted silt, and frequently bursting its banks. In every generation there are people who deplore changes in the language and many who wish to stop its flow. But if our language stopped changing it would mean that American society had ceased to be dynamic, innovative, pulsing with life—that the great river had frozen up. It would be like Latin, a "dead" language that does not change because it lives only in books and few living people speak it. America unceasingly reinvents itself, and it must create language to express that reinvention—in our social mores, in science and technology, in religion, in politcs, in the arts—and also to reflect our power and influence in the world.
The Language WarsWhat grammarians say should be has perhaps less influence on what shall be than even the more modest of them realize; usage evolves itself little disturbed by their likes and dislikes.
          —H. W. Fowler, Modern English Usuage
For centuries there has been a struggle between those who want our language to obey strict rules and those willing to be guided by how people actually speak and write. The first, who want to prescribe, are known as prescriptivists, while those content to describe usage are called descriptivists. The war between the two camps has blazed up with particular belligerence in our times, as language issues engaged social conservatives and liberals and became a factor in the so-called culture wars. Away from that intellectual battleground, ordinary Americans can be either gloriously relaxed about their language or, to use the popular idiom, decidedly uptight.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385511981, Hardcover)

Is American English in decline? Are regional dialects dying out? Is there a difference between men and women in how they adapt to linguistic variations?

These questions, and more, about our language catapulted Robert MacNeil and William Cran—the authors (with Robert McCrum) of the language classic The Story of English—across the country in search of the answers. Do You Speak American? is the tale of their discoveries, which provocatively show how the standard for American English—if a standard exists—is changing quickly and dramatically.

On a journey that takes them from the Northeast, through Appalachia and the Deep South, and west to California, the authors observe everyday verbal interactions and in a host of interviews with native speakers glean the linguistic quirks and traditions characteristic of each area. While examining the histories and controversies surrounding both written and spoken American English, they address anxieties and assumptions that, when explored, are highly emotional, such as the growing influence of Spanish as a threat to American English and the special treatment of African-American vernacular English. And, challenging the purists who think grammatical standards are in serious deterioration and that media saturation of our culture is homogenizing our speech, they surprise us with unpredictable responses.

With insight and wit, MacNeil and Cran bring us a compelling book that is at once a celebration and a potent study of our singular language.

Each wave of immigration has brought new words to enrich the American language. Do you recognize the origin of

1. blunderbuss, sleigh, stoop, coleslaw, boss, waffle?


2. dumb, ouch, shyster, check, kaput, scram, bummer?


3. phooey, pastrami, glitch, kibbitz, schnozzle?


4. broccoli, espresso, pizza, pasta, macaroni, radio?


5. smithereens, lollapalooza, speakeasy, hooligan?


6. vamoose, chaps, stampede, mustang, ranch, corral?

1. Dutch 2. German 3. Yiddish 4. Italian 5. Irish 6. Spanish

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:32 -0400)

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