Book Review: A History of Reading
Few people think to distinguish reading from writing. Most generally assume that these two skills are one and the same. Stephen Roger Fischer’s A History of Reading disabuses us of that notion. Fischer’s book is the third in a trilogy, the first two volumes addressing language and writing. This third volume focuses on reading, the various types of reading, how we do it, and the social significance of it.
First, the mental process of reading is quite different from speech or writing. We do not normally read individual phonemes or letters and accomplished readers may not even read individual words. Instead we take in entire phrases with a glance and use pattern recognition to render it comprehensible. Children learning to read do sound out individual phonemes, as do adults when they encounter unfamiliar and complex words, but once reading has been ingrained as a skill, most of us do not.
Prescriptivist’s Corner: Genitive Pronominal Antecedents
After three months of repeated letter writing by Kevin Keegan, a Montgomery County, Maryland school teacher, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) has thrown out a question on the 2002 PSAT exam, raising the scores of some 500,000 students. The issue at hand is whether or not the question as originally written was actually wrong.
Myths of Language Change, Part 2: That’s Not What It Really Means
The changing face of our language has created an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, people recognize and delight in the language change of the past. But on the other hand, people routinely resist current changes in the language. The language they learn as children is, for many, the only acceptable manner of speaking. Change is vehemently eschewed.
How people can revel in the changes of the past yet fiercely resist the changes of the present is just bizarre. And it is futile. The language will change whether we like it or not, and no amount of resistance will stop a change whose time has come.
Word of the Month: Usenet
Usenet, n., is a distributed bulletin board system. The term is an abbreviation for users’ network. Usenet was originally implemented in 1979-1980 to link computers at Duke University with those of the University of North Carolina. The system consisted of numerous discussion forums called newsgroups. Computers that functioned as newsservers would pass messages to one another. Usenet was originally conceived to carry local news and information, hence the names. By 1996, Usenet had over 10,000 newsgroups and an average of over 500 megabytes of information posted to it daily.
Usenet was not originally part of the Internet. Instead it was originally carried by the UUCPNET network of Unix computers. By the early 1990s, however, most of Usenet was being transferred over the Internet.
Book Review: The Story of English (McCrum, et.al.) & The English Language (Barber)
Generally, we avoid reviewing older books in this space, but we make an exception this month. Over the past few years, several readers of the web site have asked about historical overviews of the English language. The essay A (Very) Brief History of the English Language on the wordorigins.org site is available, but this is simply a summary of major events and trends. Those who want a more detailed account have to look elsewhere. Here we take a look at two lengthy treatments of the topic.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton