Geoffrey Hughes A History of English Words

ISBN 13: 9780631188551

A History of English Words

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9780631188551: A History of English Words

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.

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Book Description:

Why does English have so many words? Where have they all come from? Why do we now have different vocabularies for various activities?In A History of English Words, Geoffrey Hughes answers these questions in a comprehensive study of the evolution of English vocabulary which covers words as diverse as anti-disestablishmentarianism to OK, and runagate to Monicagate. His arguments are supported and illuminated through use of numerous maps, word-fields and facsimiles of texts.This book traces the remarkable reconfigurations that the stock of English words has undergone in the past millennium. From its origins as a pure Germanic language, it acquired in the medieval period a double-layered structure as Norman-French became the 'upstairs' language of power and Anglo-Saxon that of the populace. Subsequent influxes from Latin and Greek in the Renaissance added a third layer, so that every semantic area of the language now has three terms from these sources, as in ask, question and interrogate.The vocabulary is studied as an indicator of social change and as a symbol reflecting different social dynamics between speech communities, on models of dominance, cohabitation, colonialism and globalization. Sections are devoted to the lexical interchange of imperialism, the effects of America's global dominance on the core groups of the words we use, and politically correct language..

About the Author:

Geoffrey Hughes is Professor of the History of the English Language at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. A graduate of Oxford University, he has held academic and research posts at Cape Town, Harvard and Turin. His main interests are in historical semantics and sociolinguistics on which he has written over twenty papers and two books, Words in Time (Blackwell, 1988) and Swearing (Blackwell, 1991). He is a consultant for the Collins Dictionaries on South African English and has been editor of the journal English Studies in Africa.

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