English in America: A Linguistic History

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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