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A History of English Words : The Language Library - Geoffrey Hughes

A History of English Words

The Language Library

Paperback Published: 16th December 1999
ISBN: 9780631188551
Number Of Pages: 452

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This book traces the remarkable reconfigurations that English lexis has undergone in the past millennium. The vocabulary is studied as an indicator of social change, a symbol reflecting different social dynamics between speech communities, on models of dominance, cohabitation, colonialism and globalisation.

  • Comprehensive guide to the evolution of the English vocabulary.
  • Well known passages from literature are used to illustrate the variety of English words.
  • Accessible discussion of Latin, Greek, Germanic and Norman-French languages.
  • Contains original research into the make-up of the current lexical core of English.

Industry Reviews

"Do not misprise this book by dipping into it; begin respectfully at the beginning and follow the signs, all the way from ancient kings to modern cabbages, through a long cultural tale that documents the words of Saxons and saints, soldiers and scholars, poets and politicians, admen, journalists, junkies and all that jazz. The compelling power of it is in the detail, and all the details are delightful." Walter Nash, University of Nottingham

"Geoffrey Hughes's book deals authoritatively with the origin and history of groups of English words from the eighth century to the end of the twentieth and also with the emergence of the first English dictionaries and of all the major ones that have been published since the early seventeenth century. It is packed with tables displaying the dates of first records, and the interconnections of all types of vocabulary from the most technical to the most colloquial. It will be of particular interest to members of the general public, to students embarking on an investigation of our language in the UK, the USA and other English-speaking countries, and to learners of the language elsewhere in the world." Robert Burchfield, Editor of A Supplement to the OED, four volumes 1972-86

"This book has many useful things for the language teacher, of which three stand out: First: it offers insights into our language - its history, where its words come from and how they evolved. Second: it provides information on language syllabus topics; for example, register, word formation and roots. The third thing is enjoyment. I have read this book straight through twice, and dipped into various sections of it many times - it is as entertaining as it is informative. Hughes' writing has the lightness of touch and imagination that come from long and profound engagement with his subject. There is vast learning, lightly worn, in this book." Modern English Teacher

"Socialinguists will find the work a useful departure point for research and teaching, particularly where it deals with areas outside their current expertise, and students and generalists will find it a good read and highly informative throughout." Elizabeth Falsberg, English, University of Washington.


List of Sources and Abbreviations.

A Chronology of the English.

1. History in the Language: The Vocabulary as a Historical Repository.

2. The Foundations of English and the Formation of the Base Register.

3. The Norman Elite and the New Language of Power.

4. The Lexical Expansion of the Renaissance.

5. Licentiousness, Decorum and Lexicographical Order; A Short History of the Dictionary.

6. The Lexical Interchange of Imperialism.

7. Lexical Varieties in Modern and Contemporary English.

8. Changes in Lexical Structure.


ISBN: 9780631188551
ISBN-10: 063118855X
Series: The Language Library
Audience: Professional
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 452
Published: 16th December 1999
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 23.0 x 15.7  x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.66
Edition Number: 1