THE ENGLISH IS COMING! by Leslie Dunton-Downer


How One Language Is Sweeping the World
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An exploration of the English language via the study of specific words that have “gone global.”

As a result of English’s increasing worldwide dominance, there has been a recent surge of interest in its historical transformations and global impact. Dunton-Downer (co-author: Essential Shakespeare Handbook, 2004) contributes to this growing genre with a detailed investigation of the origins and global reach of more than 30 English words. For example, readers might be surprised to discover that the word bikini has a somewhat dubious lexical history connected to atom-bomb testing, while the ancestry of disco can be traced to an Indo-European word meaning “to pronounce solemnly.” In addition to etymologies, the author looks at the story and “personality” that each word acquires as it travels through time and often across continents. In the discussion of the word robot, for example, readers will learn about the Czech brothers who not only coined the word but were also strong opponents of Nazi Germany. Other words or phrases surveyed by Dunton-Downer include jazz, cocktail, blog, taxi, penthouse and safari. The author also delves into the English language’s turbulent past and myriad influences, such as the Norman Conquest and the subsequent influx of French words in the English lexicon. Although she briefly addresses the possible negative consequences of English’s increasing ubiquity, including the potential for more widespread language extinction, the author generally sidesteps the ongoing linguistic-political debates in favor of a more exuberant and humorous celebration of this particular language’s ascendancy and mutability. In the final chapter, Dunton-Downer makes predictions about how the language could spread and change in the future, including the acquisition of more words from Chinese and Arabic.

An ardent, spirited look at what is increasingly considered the world’s language.

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7665-8
Page count: 356pp
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2010


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