American English

American English. 2nd edn. By Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. Pp. 452. ISBN 1405112662. $36.95.

Reviewed by Rachel Stauffer, University of Virginia

American English presents an overview of the contemporary features of US dialects. Written by Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes, this second edition offers a more substantial presentation of information pertaining to the study of American English dialectology based on geographic, social, ethnic, and, to some extent, gender differences.

The book is divided into eleven chapters. Chs. 1, 2, and 3 are introductory chapters that serve to inform the reader of basic premises of the field of dialectology and, specifically, the dialects of American English. These chapters discuss concepts such as standard and nonstandard language, phonology, articulatory phonetics, sociohistorical and linguistic influences on language variation, and lexicon and pragmatics. Ch. 4 is a chronological assessment of the development of American English from its beginnings in Jamestown in 1607 to the present.

Chs. 5–8 consider sociolinguistic factors contributing to the dialectal divisions in existence at the present time with attention to both the theoretical and the practical in the field of study. Extensive attention in these chapters is given to various regional, ethnic, and social factors influencing and constructing dialect communities in the US. This includes sections on Cajun English, Lumbee English, and Latino English, as well as a very useful chapter on African-American Vernacular English. The final three chapters offer further investigation into the semantic, educational, and sociological implications of dialectal divisions in the US.

Conveniently designed for classroom use, each of the book’s chapters contains exercises that may be used to facilitate discussion or to exemplify a chapter’s content. The book also contains an extensive glossary as well as an appendix of over twenty pages that describes dialectal features found in the US.

As Peter Trudgill states in the preface: ‘Not only will [the book] be essential for any non-American concerned to learn more about American English; it will also be vital reading for scholars with theoretical interests in historical linguistics, new-dialect formation, variation theory, language and gender, African American Vernacular English, creolization, and many other issues …’ (ix). The second edition maintains the best features of the first edition, namely, the readability, organization, quantity, and quality of its content. The authors have successfully updated and improved the previous edition, having made the second even more user-friendly and informative than the first.