This course offers an overview of the English language that is literary, historical, cultural, political, and scientific in its scope and designed to give you greater insight into the written and spoken word.The lectures provide a thorough understanding of the history of the English language - from its origins as a dialect of the Germanic-speaking peoples through the literary and cultural documents of its 1,500-year span to the state of American speech today.
Professor Lerer defines concepts by illustrating them with copious examples. He often speaks in the dialect appropriate to each lecture - be it Old English, Chaucer’s Middle English, or the colloquial style of Mark Twain’s most unforgettable characters.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©1998 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1998 The Great Courses
I listened to the entire course. Professor Lerer is very learned and prepares well, but it was more information than I really wanted to learn. This is a very detailed history.
Yes. This was my third course.
Say something about yourself!
I listened to the first version of this course on cassette tapes way back in the day and found it truly fascinating. The second version contains much of the original material, and it was fun to be reminded of the things I had forgotten. It is a testament to the original course that I also remembered quite a lot! The new material at the end brings the history of English up to date by covering the ways in which new technologies are transforming the language. Professor Lerer presents the lectures at a perfect pace, uses great examples to illustrate abstract concepts, and clearly loves this material. His enthusiasm is infectious. Highly recommended as a way to learn not only the history of English but also some widely applicable principles of philology and linguistics.
I'm a lawyer and mediator. I represent businesses in disputes with their insurers and in other complex litigation. I also assist machinery companies and manufacturers (primarily international) with equipment sales, non-disclosure agreements, and business issues. I also mediate commercial disputes.
This course is very interesting, although it could be better. The first two parts of the book are excellent with a wealth of historical information about the historical development of the English language going, well, back to the beginning. Really fascinating, and I felt like I learned a lot.
When the book gets to the later stages, however, it slips a bit. The professor lapses into more than a little political correctness, which is probably not surprising given his background. If you can take it or leave it, the discussion is still interesting.
The professor is not a bad lecturer, but he has one incredibly irritating habit: He says "if you like" all the time. It becomes glaringly obvious, especially given the length of the recording. Maybe the professor can fix this in the third edition.
Another irritation--although certainly not the professor's fault--is the trumpet music announcing each new chapter along with the fake applause (which also closes each chapter). Straight out of 1950s sound effects. Just plain awful and prevalent in the "Great Courses." But, fortunately, a small part of the recording.
Professor Lerer may rub you the wrong way a little when you first hear his voice; he did me.
I had that reaction, I think, because he enunciates each word with such excruciating clarity and exactness that it becomes at times distracting from the actual content of the lecture.
It was only a little further into the course, however, that this very trouble, that is the shifting of focus between the meaning of the sentences/sections/thoughts and the individual words (free from direct context, highlighted by the intentionality with which he executes them) became a source of joy and reflection that added tremendously to the experience. I'm sure this was one of his goals in constructing these polished lectures.
His apparently deep knowledge of the pronunciation of old and middle English, including the various dialects, makes listening to his readings of Chaucer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Beowulf, Cadmon and even Shakespeare (reconstructed to sound as it would have if you were hearing it circa 1600) really thrilling.
I'm going to find his other courses after reviewing this one. Highly recommended!
The information is, for the most part, superb.
Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage - another in the Great Courses series, by John McWhorter
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English by John McWhorter
Both in the same subject, both far more enjoyable listens.
Seth Lerer makes William Shatner look like an absolute master of oratory performance. There's strong emphasis on just about every other word and strange pauses in odd places. At one point Lerer talked about "The study. OF. English. The study. OF. Language." and it was just odd. Why do you need to hit the word "of" that hard? Ever? My roommate overheard the course and described it as a "roller coaster of words." I'm pretty sure he was paid to say "ifyoulike" and "You will recall. From my previous lecture." at least 3 times per lecture (half an hour each).
I've never been so bored listening to something on a subject that I'm so interested in. I'M SURE HE'S A NICE GUY, but Lerer comes off as pompous and pretentious and I reeeeaaaaally wished he would just talk to me instead of orate at me. I was so distracted by the way he lectured that I missed large chunks of what he was actually saying. For the last 8 hours or so I was just waiting for the book to die. I about cried with joy when I finally made it to the end.
The sad part is that the information is largely amazing and I would like very much to go back and re-listen to the bits I missed. But I just can't. I don't hate myself enough to go through that. I'm going to have to return this one.
I would be more than happy to *read* Seth Lerer in the future, but I will never. nevernevernevernevernever. listen to him ever again.
Listen to the sample and realize that this lecture series is 18 and a half straight hours of that. Exactly that. If you can handle that for EIGHTEEN HOURS.... well, more power to ya, I guess.
I wouldn't. Why would you do that? That film would be terrible. The tag line would be "This film is terrible."
As I've mentioned, the information in this is largely amazing. Just absolutely fantastic. However, Lerer is very much a literature professor and not so much a linguist. That's not to say that he hasn't thoroughly researched the linguistic aspects of this series. But he does hit the literature side pretty hard.
He also does that thing that literature teachers do. You know the thing. "The shadows in this scene represent the hero's insecurities and deep seated fears of reproach! Notice how he begins this sentence here and the one 17 chapters later with the same letter as if to draw the reader's attention to character x's inner monologue from chapter 3!!" And you just have to sit there thinking, "How do you know this? The author died - relatively unknown - several centuries ago. Did someone ask him? Did he leave a detailed explanation and criticism of his own work? Maybe the shadows just mean that the room was fucking dark."
A criticism I've seen in other reviews is that this series is "boring" because it's "too technical" and "not really for the layperson."
It's a lecture series. If you wouldn't be interested in taking a college level course on this topic (because that's what this *is,* after all), don't listen to this lecture series. It is technical, yes. You do not, however, need any prior knowledge to understand the information given. It certainly helps, as it would in any course on any subject. But it's not necessary and I would argue that while it is technical, it isn't overly so.
The historical etymologies and the traced evolution of English were a delight to learn about.
If you like if you like if you like if you like if you like ad infinitum.
If the words "if," "you," and "like" were suddenly deleted from Professor Lerer's vocabulary. He says it at least two to three times each lesson, and you WILL notice. In fact, in the lesson I just listened to, he said it twice in one sentence.
Apart from the "If you like"s being really frustrating, there were two things that got to me. The pronunciations of the rare French readings made me cry as a French speaker, and every once in a while Professor Lerer would say things that were not quite right that I had already known beforehand as an amateur linguist.Everything else was great and a delight to listen to.
If you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like if you like
Goes far beyond the history of English, dealing,as it does with the nature of language and the relationship between imagination, communication, and reality. This course will reward occasional replay.
I bought this title because I have always been interested in those mysterious parts of history. That is I want to learn about the history that is not told in school. What is the English language? What was its early form like? How did we get to the version we use today?
I can tell you without a doubt that I got my answer and so much more!
Professor Lerer goes above and beyond in telling the story of the English language. For example I didn't think about how important grammar was or how pronunciation has changed over time. He also speaks of culture and how dialects are formed.
I will admit though that his weakness can be when he gets too technical. For the lay person this can be a turnoff. Sometimes I will admit I zoned out when it was getting too "boring".
He was at this best when he spoke of literature. He did brilliantly at using different stories for an example of dialect or the change in language.
I also loved his discussions on different dialects. I learned what made these regions special and it was eye opening.
I would certainly recommend this course even with its problems. It will make you think about language in a very different way.
Glass blower and audiobook junkie. Books are my schoolroom and my entertainment!
This course is very far-reaching and conceptual . . . to the exclusion of conciseness and historical clarity. If you're just curious about where the English language came from, and how it went from what it was then to what it is now, I would recommend Michael Drout's wonderful Modern Scholars course, or even Anne Curzan's Great Courses course 'The Secret Life of Words'.
You'll get much more out of this course if you've heard one of those first, or if you already have an idea of the main plot points in the story of English - because this one is a little muddy on those. I should know, because I listened to it twice: once before I knew anything about the history of the language, and once again after a few more listens on the subject. I wish I had not started with this one! I got a lot more out of it after I had gone elsewhere for the basic story.
That being said, there's a lot of good stuff in here! He really talks more like a literature professor than a history professor, and so you'll learn about the vocabulary of the great works of the English canon, and metaphorical constructs used by language critics to describe language change, and other such complex topics. It covers a lot of ground, even if he does sometimes go off the conceptual deep end!
So even if it is somewhat meandering, and though he has a strange kind of affected speaking style, it's still worth listening to for the unusually high-level concepts and wide-ranging subject matter.
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