Anglo-Saxon

Update: Friday, 13 September 2019

The University of Illinois Press has given permission for me to post a pre-publication copy of the paper which will appear in an upcoming issue of JEGP (tentatively October 2020, 119.4).

A pdf of the paper can be downloaded from here.


[Note: I have a forthcoming article in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology (JEGP) on this topic which goes into much greater detail. I am posting this summary to correct some misinformation about the term Anglo-Saxon, its history, and its present-day usage that is currently circulating. Contrary to what others have said, the term is overwhelmingly used as a contemporary racial or ethnic label rather than as a reference to the historical, pre-Conquest period. This racial usage is also prevalent in other academic fields where Anglo-Saxon is used to mean “white.”

The information presented here is based on a study of corpora of usage, including the:

  • Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus
  • Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED)
  • Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH)
  • Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse (CoME)
  • Middle English Dictionary
  • Corpus of Early Modern English (CoEME)
  • Corpus of Historical American English (COHA)
  • Hansard Corpus
  • Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA)
  • Strathy Corpus of Canadian English
  • Corpus of News on the Web (NOW)

My study is of English-language and medieval Latin usage only, including present-day use in countries where English is not the predominant language. I have not studied how the term is used in other present-day languages, such as Spanish, French, and German.]

What sparked my interest in the usage of Anglo-Saxon was an off-hand remark at the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS) 2013 conference in Dublin. At a reception at the British embassy, the host, the chargé d’affaires at the embassy, quipped that when they had been first approached to host the group, they had to do some background research to determine whether or not ISAS was some sort of white supremacist organization. The remark, made in jest, is a succinct summation of how the name affects how those outside the field view us and what we do.

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The Guardian on Language Decline

David Shariatmadari has a nice piece on the myth of the decline of the English language in The Guardian.

He writes:

There is no such thing as linguistic decline, so far as the expressive capacity of the spoken or written word is concerned. We need not fear a breakdown in communication. Our language will always be as flexible and sophisticated as it has been up to now. Those who warn about the deterioration of English haven’t learned about the history of the language, and don’t understand the nature of their own complaints – which are simply statements of preference for the way of doing things they have become used to.

There’s nothing new here for those that have studied the myth, but it’s a concise debunking and useful for reference.

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Voynich MS

Lisa Fagin Davis, an actual expert on the manuscript, has an excellent article in the Washington Post on the Voynich manuscript and how people keep proposing crackpot ideas about it. She gives no solutions or answers to the as-yet-undeciphered work, but she provides some excellent commentary on the misuses of medieval history.

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Reinhold Aman (1936–2019)

Reinhold Aman died earlier this month. Aman was one of the leading experts on profanity and the publisher of the journal Maledicta (“The International Journal of Verbal Aggression”), which ran from 1977–2005).

He was also, shall we say, an interesting character. He was, at one point, imprisoned for sending threatening material to his ex-wife, her lawyer, and the judge who handled the divorce case. I must say, however, that in my few dealings with him, he was always quite polite and gracious.

Jesse Sheidlower has penned an obit.

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ADS 2018 Word of the Year

Every year I report on the American Dialect Society’s selections for Word of the Year. There are lots of organizations that propose such a word, and I do so myself, but I generally only write up the ADS choice. That may be because the ADS, an organization of academic linguists who study language for a living, has been doing it longer than anyone else, and it may be because in past years I’ve participated in the nomination and selection process. But this year, I’ve been late to the process. (I was traveling when the announcement was made and am only getting to it now.)

As a result, I’m not going to give a detailed report, essentially regurgitating the ADS press release. Those interested in a detailed account of the vote tallies and the winners in all the sub-categories can read the press release. Instead, this year I’m going to write about what a Word of the Year means and the ADS selection process.

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