English in America: A Linguistic History

Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poor presentation and boring Presenter is totally monotone and just reading a teleprompter the whole course. She defends an poorly spoken version of English as a dialect instead of mostly just uneducated speech. Painful to listen to.
Date published: 2018-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from English in America: A Linguistic History I haven’t engaged in the lectures yet. I added this to my collection of courses because of above interest in the subject. I haven’t been disappointed in any of the courses that I have. I have several on various topics from Biblical History to Music theory.
Date published: 2018-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable It was interesting to find out where many of the words we use every day came from.
Date published: 2018-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough survey of the history of American English As an amateur linguist and an historian of early America, I approached this course with high expectations -- and was not disappointed in the least. It definitely gave me a lot of food for thought, and helped me to better understand some of the process of language development and change.
Date published: 2018-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview I taught Latin and etymology, and this course includes material that is new to me. The professor is factual, precise, and nonjudgemental. She is clear in her speech and provides plenty of examples of the points she makes. I highly recommend this course. It is outstanding.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information about American English Enjoyed the way the professor provided actual clips of speaker from different regions. I'll definitely listen to this course a second time - perhaps event a third time.
Date published: 2017-11-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Facts Abundant; Coherence and Presentation Lacking I love studying languages, especially English, and appreciated the superabundance of detailed facts and studies presented in this course. If all you seek are many tidbits of information about American English dialects, you may appreciate this course. Unfortunately there is little coherent theory or organization in the way these morsels are presented. The lecture titles give a reasonable general idea of the area to be discussed. But within each lecture we get essentially a stream of consciousness presentation. One item is followed by another - and another, and another - with little idea of where we are going and minimal consideration of where we have been. No outline is given at the start of any lecture, and minimal discussion of conclusions is offered at the end. As a dilettante in this area, I do not know enough to reliably ascribe the lack of underlying theory and coherence to our professor or to the field itself, although I honestly doubt that so many bright scholars would be devoting so much time and attention to dialectology if there were little more to it than is presented here. I do know enough about the Great Vowel Shift, discussed in Lecture 12, to realize that the most essential information, the general change in English from what are still romance language vowel sounds to what are now English vowel sounds, was entirely omitted in favor of multiple and confusing derivative examples. And, as others have noted, our professor speaks in a nearly expressionless monotone, which made it all too easy for my attention to drift. I wish I could recommend this course, and if you have a particular interest in this area you may still find it worth your time. If you take the course, please review it in detail. I do hope that The Teaching Company will continue to offer courses in all aspects of linguistics.
Date published: 2017-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent title for the material in the Course. Appreciate the content and learning the background of the Linguistic History of English in America.
Date published: 2017-10-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pretty good Interesting and informative, but clearly read from a script, and not in a very lively way. It would be amazing if all Great Courses lecturers just happened to be great oral interpreters, too, but the vast majority of them, including this one, are not. On the whole, though, I'd recommend the course strongly to anyone interested in the subject.
Date published: 2017-06-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Serious Disappointment Here! After enjoying over a dozen Great Courses, including some on writing and speaking, this one goes back! The teacher is the main problem. She has never smiled nor changed her monotone, poorly enunciated, way too rapid speech pattern. She wrings her hands while reading monotonously from a teleprompter and marches, seemingly on cue, back and forth on a small carpet. Her bushy hair and drab clothing are the same throughout the course. As a long-time writer, I had hoped to enjoy tales about various English dialects and their colorful origins. No such luck here. The first six of the twelve lectures were weak but passable. The second six are unabashed far-left, politically correct tirades. For any patriotic American, this presenter's attitude, script and delivery are unacceptable.
Date published: 2017-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting There are several Great Courses on the subject of linguistics, most notably those by John McWhorter. This course by Dr. Natalie Schilling fills a gap by explaining how American English developed and is now distinct from English English and other Englishes. Dr. Schilling takes a largely historical approach to how American English developed and this approach works well. She explains how settlement patterns (including native Americans, slaves, and non-English speakers) and westward migration as well as political developments (e. g., the American Revolution) guided the evolution of American English. She explains how this affects evolution of the language even today, including how Valley Girls have affected even your own speaking habits. This is useful for those interested in linguistics, particularly those who have taken the other Great Courses on linguistics. It is also useful for those who do public speaking; it will help you hear yourself as others hear you. I was startled by many of the other reviews. This course won’t win a Pulitzer Prize but it’s fun and informative.
Date published: 2017-05-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Does not live up to its title This has been the only Great Course with which I am disappointed. I had expected to deal with the dialectal variation of English spread across the US. The title should have been Elementary Sociolinguistics. Professor Schlieman was an annoying lecturer as she marched back and forth in what seemed to be comments from the person taping her performance, telling her not to stand so still. Too often she would comment that this discussion would be found later in the lecture. The subject matter dealt with social implications of language in a superficial manner. Perhaps I was reacting to my frustration with the lack of geographic examples that I had expected to be the subject matter. I was also dismayed with the paucity of historical geographic change in dialect with accompanying reasons. In that case, the fault is mine and not with the presenter. I would not recommend this lecture to anyone interested in the history of language or dialect development.
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from English in America: A Linguistic History I found Lecture #1 to be somewhat disappointing because it didn't elaborate much about the specific dialects. Lecture #12 partially filled that void. The professor's delivery, while lacking in personal anecdotes and humor, did show a command of the subject and was varied enough to hold my attention. Some material, particularly the past efforts to eradicate many Native American languages, the discussion of African-American dialects,and emergence of Spanish labeling,signage,and telephone prompts will come across as overly political to some. However, the points she made have merit and demonstrate how our politics influences our attitudes toward languages and dialects other than own. This course is good for someone with an interest in linguistics or just is curious about American English dialects and how they arose.
Date published: 2017-01-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Although interesting . . . . . Although interesting, much of the material in this course is covered better in other TGC courses. I was put off by the professor apparently reading from a teleprompter which made her presentation seem stilted and mechanical as well too fast. She probably is much better when teaching in her regular environment. The closed-captioning was mediocre, sometimes abysmal.
Date published: 2017-01-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Ideological, Agenda-Driven Drivel This "professor" (ideologue) introduced the idea of the primacy of politics very early on in the course & continued to run with it through pretty much all the lectures. She argues that politics decides what is and is not a language. She also discusses as a legitimate theory the idea that the word "axe" (meaning "ask" in Ebonics) is not a mispronunciation of "ask" but the correct English use of the word dating to the times before the Norman conquest of England by William the Conquerer. She also argued that what she calls "African-American English" is an amazingly structured language that is richer than the "regular" English. She also goes on a rant about persecution of native Americans and how a tiny native American tribe is fighting to have its language recognized as such. This "professor" also speaks too fast and her poorly structured presentations are not interesting. She is most articulate when she talks about "African-American English" and about native Americans. She clearly romanticizes both and casts both in cherubic & idyllic, yet at the same time in sophisticated & heroic light; while the U.S. for her is a demon of oppression. In other words, do not expect a balanced course about American English. This is more of the "progressive" indoctrination, of which academia is full.
Date published: 2017-01-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative and enjoyable This was a worthwhile use of my time--I learned detailed information about the development of various US dialects and about the science of dialects in general. Some commented on the professor's "dry" approach--I thought she was fine. Her voice was pleasant and she is very knowledgeable--she's not a comedian, but I didn't expect her to be. Especially given the low price of this series, I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the origins of American English.
Date published: 2017-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable history We listened to this on a road trip and while a very scholarly and well researched presentation, the lecturer is often funny and entertaining. Great overview of how American English got to be the way it is.
Date published: 2017-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging Entry into Linguistics I very much enjoyed this course, and it marks the first departure from what I think I should know to what I was curious about. I did not have time or luxury to take any linguistics courses in college/graduate school, so this diversion taught me: (a) there is much to learn via linguistics, (b) it's wickedly interesting and (c) when well-presented, the taxonomy of terms used in linguistics is necessary and helpful. This was among the few Great Courses where Prof. Schilling's structure, delivery and demeanor helped with the material. Easily top 5 course on the Great Courses. Get it!
Date published: 2017-01-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Blah I found some of the course extremely interesting. But the professor was quite bland in her presentation. I listened to this court on CD while driving to work. Perhaps video format would have made it better. Or not.
Date published: 2016-10-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This professor talks too fast to be understood. The same material is covered in other courses by other profs in a better fashion.
Date published: 2016-10-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Another Linguist Posing as Descriptivist I agree with a number of the reviews posted here that the lecturer's claim to "descriptivism" is misleading and disingenuous. Professor Schilling describes some things, of course, but there is a persistent agenda (common with most American linguists today) to teach us why nothing is "incorrect" or "ignorant." Language just "is" and you have to live with it. First, this is true (if at all) only in respect to oral vernacular -- not to writing or to formal speech. Second, it does not acknowledge that spoken language can have an esthetic value beyond just making someone understand you. I venture to say that Churchill's use of English was more beautiful and pleasing than a rap artist's banal chatter. To me, there is such a thing as a lovely turn of phrase and there is also banal junk. I knew that somewhere in the lectures I would be told that "aks" for "ask" (or "astericks" for "asterisk") is not a plain mistake but a legitimate use of Old English. In that case, it's amazing how many people I know, of any race or ethnicity, have studied OE. What nonsense. If you want to describe, describe, and leave the preaching about social impacts and attitudes to the sociologists.
Date published: 2016-10-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from English from a sociopolitical perspective Perhaps my review title would have been a more appropriate title for the course. Need I say more.
Date published: 2016-09-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting enough to leave me wanting more... The professor is well-organized, and I appreciate the maps and terms written out enough to be glad I paid the extra for video. There is much more I'd like to know. In particular how (or are) regional accents related to where the original settlers came from? Why is there a glottal stop used in some places such as Worchester, Mass... But it's a start! I appreciated the detailed and passionate defense of dialects of African American English, but I'd heard much of this in other courses.
Date published: 2016-08-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disappointing I've enjoyed a number of Great Courses, and this is the first one in which I've been disappointed. I hoped to learn about dialects and their development, but the presenter spends much of her time gracing us with her social and political views. Her presentation style was dull and uninteresting. She obviously has the ability to provide the kind of information and detail in which I was interested as evidenced by her somewhat detailed discussion of African American English, but beyond that this course was a huge disappointment.
Date published: 2016-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fun Look at American English As a fiction writer, I purchased this course to help me write authentic dialogue. Only two sessions were helpful for that purpose, but it was worth the money for those two sessions, and all of the lessons were fun and informative.
Date published: 2016-07-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Overview of American English This is an enjoyable and well-paced overview of the history of the English language in America. This was my introduction to the science of what is known as socio-linguistics and, because I am a native-born American from a region and city with its own linguistic quirks (Bawlmer, Merlin - that's Baltimore Maryland to you non-natives), much in this course resonated with me. A couple of key concepts will stay with me...American English dialects are formal language systems with their own rules of grammar and syntax, so when you violate the rules you can speak bad Latino English, bad African-American English, as well as bad New England or bad American Standard English. Most importantly is the incredible flexibility and absorbent nature of the English language as a whole. The ability of English to absorb words and syntax from Yiddish, German, African dialects, Spanish and French is amazing. This is just the tip of the iceberg when one considers the words we have co-opted from other countries. No doubt the TTC could market similar courses in how English developed its own flavor in Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. India could be probably be added, too. The lecturer, Dr. Natalie Schilling, has command of the subject and is easy to listen to. She is not exactly a riveting speaker, but she gets her points across. This course is interesting and fascinating in sections but not exactly a heavyweight course. If the student wants to pursue the development of language and linguistics in general and the English language in particular, I can recommend 3 courses that present these topics with more academic rigor and depth: The History of the English Language by Seth Lerer, and Understanding Linguistics and the Story of Human Language by John McWhorter. Both are excellent lecturers and I highly recommend them.
Date published: 2016-07-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from disappointed While the content was interesting, the professor's "political" views and conclusions tended to cloud the content. It seemed as if the lecture was read rather than presented - read well but never the less still read.
Date published: 2016-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, but a bit PC for me Her presentation is clear, and her voice and intonation are pleasing so it won't induce a nap in listeners who (as I usually do) consume Great Courses in audio form only, while driving. This is a very thorough, intelligently planned treatment. My only (and relatively minor) complaint: the lecturer is a descriptivist rather than a prescriptivist. In this view, if people speak a certain form of English and are mutually intelligible, then the English they speak is just another form of English rather than "bad" English or pigeon English, (as I see it). For example, she engages in a strenuous defense of African-American and "Spanglish" as legitimate dialects equally as legitimate as that spoken in Ivy League schools. In my humble opinion, such apologetics work against the best interests of speakers of such dialects in that such efforts ultimately hamper the possibility of academic and professional success black and Latino Americans need to attain for those groups to achieve better integration in our society. Having picked that one nit, otherwise this is a fine course.
Date published: 2016-07-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Moderately Interesting History of American English I picked up some interesting tidbits of linguistic trivia from this course, but I can't say I was enthralled by it. The professor's extremely dry presentation style probably doesn't help matters. Probably the more interesting parts include the tracing of original sources of various types of American accents and dialects. At other times, it was like watching paint dry. It was just interesting enough to get me to keep going and finish it.
Date published: 2016-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Researched I have to disagree with a previous reviewer who said this professor was preachy. Language is another fascinating aspect of history. In some corners, everything is political. Ideas about dialects carry a lot of baggage for some people but I thought Schilling tried to be very fair and considerate in presenting the way linguists look at language variations as they have evolved in America. I found her very trustworthy and detailed. I would love to find out more about the area of New Mexico and Colorado Spanish and English as a separate Southwestern variety. The lectures, however, are not very high energy and could get monotone at times. But I would still recommend them for the particular specialized linguistic content.
Date published: 2016-05-10
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English in America: A Linguistic History
Course Trailer
Defining American English Dialects
1: Defining American English Dialects

Begin with a big-picture overview of the American English dialect map, asking as we explore: What is the difference between a language, a dialect, and an accent? Discover the intricate rules governing all linguistic systems, and consider how and why some varieties of language become valued standards and others are stigmatized....

31 min
The Foundations of American English
2: The Foundations of American English

The main English dialect hubs in the new American colonies were centered on Jamestown, New England, and Philadelphia. See how these were influenced by contact with Native American languages, Spanish, French, Dutch, and the West African languages of slaves, and learn about the five stages of development English dialects typically undergo everywhere English is spoken in the world....

30 min
From English in America to American English
3: From English in America to American English

Explore how the English settlers gradually transformed themselves from colonists to American citizens, and how English in America became American English. Myriad dialects began to coalesce, and there was an explosion of linguistic creativity, especially in the creation of dialect words - Americanisms like "raccoon" and "bifocal"....

30 min
The Rise of American Language Standards
4: The Rise of American Language Standards

In the 1800s, America began looking inward, not to England, for its language standards. The new norms were recorded in dictionaries, spelling books, and grammars, and celebrated in a profusion of distinctly American literary works. Noah Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain are all key figures in this stage in the historical development of American English....

29 min
Where Is General American English?
5: Where Is General American English?

Our journey continues with the westward expansion of American English, as the New England dialect spreads across the North, the South extends to the Southwest, and people in the middle increasingly intermingle. Along the way, dialect mixing and leveling lead to increasing standardization, or at least the ideal of a single, uniform standard, and "General American English" is born. But where is it, ...

29 min
Mapping American Dialects
6: Mapping American Dialects

What do you call a big road where you drive fast: highway, parkway, freeway, or something else? How do you pronounce the word "been": with the vowel in "sit," "see," or "set"? Take a quiz and see where your linguistic usages place you on the American dialect map. Delve into how linguists who study dialects - sociolinguists, dialectologists, and dialect geographers - get data to make their dialect ...

29 min
Ethnicity and American English
7: Ethnicity and American English

America has always been a land of immigrants, and American English has been shaped since its earliest days by contact among immigrants from all over the British Isles and from around the world. Consider how the languages of the many immigrants who poured into America in the 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to distinctive ethnic dialects of American English, and how they left their mark on A...

30 min
African American English
8: African American English

Explore the indelible linguistic effects of the peoples of African descent who were brought to America as slaves, who went on to develop a richly expressive language variety that today is emulated by young people across the world-African American English. Contrary to common misunderstandings, this well-studied dialect is governed by intricate and consistent rules....

31 min
Mobility, Media, and Contemporary English
9: Mobility, Media, and Contemporary English

Moving into 20th-century America, examine how changes in movement patterns of peoples, and of information, have affected language change. Consider population movements from rural to urban to suburban-and then back to the city again; the Civil Rights Movement; and the increasing influence of Hollywood media and the dawn of the Internet age....

28 min
The History of American Language Policy
10: The History of American Language Policy

What's the official language of the United States? What should it be? See how American language policies and language attitudes have shifted back and forth over the centuries, from periods of relative tolerance for non-English languages in the U.S., to times of heightened fear for the "safety" of English in America, and concurrent attempts at stricter language legislation. Is there reason to worry...

30 min
Latino Language and Dialects in America
11: Latino Language and Dialects in America

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, America has seen an upsurge in immigration, much as it did at the dawn of the 20th. Investigate the effects of immigrants from Latin America on American English, and confront a fear facing some native speakers of American English: Is Spanish taking over, and do we need language policies to prevent this? Also explore the native English varieties developed ...

28 min
Where Is American English Headed?
12: Where Is American English Headed?

Secure as a major player on the world stage, the U.S. can now look inward and focus on the intra-national linguistic and cultural diversity that's been there since English speakers first arrived on the American continent. Discover that regional dialect differentiation is actually increasing, not receding, even in the Internet age, and consider the development of English as it continues to spread a...

31 min
Natalie Schilling

If we approach language not as grammarians - as guardians of proper usage-but as scientists-as linguists-then we need to study human language as it really is, not how we think it should be.


The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


Georgetown University

About Natalie Schilling

Dr. Natalie Schilling is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and head of a research project at Georgetown University called Language and Communication in Washington, DC. She earned a doctorate in Linguistics from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she also received a bachelor's degree in English, and she holds a master's degree in English from North Carolina State University.

Dr. Schilling has appeared on a number of NPR programs, and has authored and contributed to articles in national publications. She is the author of Sociolinguistic Fieldwork, coauthor of American English: Dialects and Variation (third edition), and coeditor of The Handbook of Language Variation and Change (second edition). She has conducted forensic linguistic investigation of speaker profiling and authorship attribution, applying expertise in American English dialect variation to casework.

Dr. Schilling is keenly interested in American literature as well as American linguistics, especially in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain. She specializes in the study of language variation and change in American English dialects, including regional, ethnic, and gender-based language varieties. Dr. Schilling's main expertise is stylistic variation: how and why individuals use different language styles as they shape and reshape personal, interpersonal, and group identities and relations.

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