Fixing English

Fixing English : Prescriptivism and Language History

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Over the past 300 years, attempts have been made to prescribe how we should and should not use the English language. The efforts have been institutionalized in places such as usage guides, dictionaries, and school curricula. Such authorities have aspired to 'fix' the language, sometimes by keeping English exactly where it is, but also by trying to improve the current state of the language. Anne Curzan demonstrates the important role prescriptivism plays in the history of the English language, as a sociolinguistic factor in language change and as a vital meta-discourse about language. Starting with a pioneering new definition of prescriptivism as a linguistic phenomenon, she highlights the significant role played by Microsoft's grammar checker, debates about 'real words', non-sexist language reform, and efforts to reappropriate stigmatized terms. Essential reading for anyone interested in the regulation of language, the book is a fascinating re-examination of how we tell language history.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 19 b/w illus.
  • 1139950177
  • 9781139950176

Table of contents

Introduction: does prescriptivism fail?; 1. Prescriptivism's umbrella: standards, style, restoration, and political intervention; 2. Prescriptivism's lessons: scope and 'The history of English'; 3. Checking grammar and grammar checkers; 4. Dictionaries and the idea of 'real words'; 5. Non-sexist language reform and its effects; 6. Reappropriation and challenges to institutionalized prescriptivism; 7. Finding shared ground: public conversations about prescriptivism.
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Review quote

'Anne Curzan takes prescriptivism seriously; this informative, engaging and readable book deserves serious attention from anyone with an interest in the history - or the future - of English.' Deborah Cameron, University of Oxford 'This is the most sensible study I have read of the urge to fix and regulate the English language. Anne Curzan is one of the most accomplished historical linguists at work today, and Fixing English represents a clear and effective case for why, like it or not, 'prescriptivism' has always been with us.' Seth Lerer, University of California, San Diego
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About Anne Curzan

Anne Curzan is Professor of English in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan.
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