The People's Tongue: Americans and the English Language Spiral-Bound |

Ilan Stavans (Edited by)

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A riveting, one-of-a-kind anthology of the diversity, strangeness, and power of American English that features a tremendous array of letters, poems, memoir, jeremiads, stories, songs, documents, and more from Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln to Henry Roth and Zora Neale Hurston, from George Carlin and James Baldwin to Richard Rodríguez and Amy Tan, from Tony Kushner and Toni Morrison to Louise Erdrich and Donald Trump.

This volume is a kind of people’s history of English in the United States, told by those who have transformed it: activists, teachers, immigrants, journalists, nurses, poets, astronauts, dictionary makers, actors, musicians, playwrights, preachers, Supreme Court Justices, rappers, translators, singers, children’s book authors, scientists, politicians, foreigners, students, homemakers, lexicographers, scholars, newspaper columnists, TV personalities, senators, novelists, technology innovators, and a bunch of fanatics.

The quest is to understand how an imperial language like English, with Germanic origins, whose spread resulted from the Norman conquest, came to be an intrinsic component of the first and most influential democratic experiment in the world. Edited by internationally renowned cultural commentator and consultant for the OED Ilan Stavans, it is organized chronologically and offers a banquet of letters, poems, autobiographical reflections, op-eds, dictionary entries, stories, songs, legislative documents, and other evidence of verbal mutation. It addresses Ebonics, and Yinglish, Spanglish, and other linguistic concoctions, including sci-fi inventions.

In pages in which the story is not only the what but the how, The People’s Tongue starts with samples of the English used by the settlers in Plymouth Colony and it ends with President Donald Trump's tweets.

Publisher: Restless Books
Original Binding: Hardcover with printed dust jacket
Pages: 512 pages
ISBN-10: 1632062658
Item Weight: 2.37 lbs
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.54 x 9.0 inches
Customer Reviews: 3 out of 5 stars Up to 30 ratings

Praise for The People’s Tongue:

“From Noah Webster’s first American dictionary and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s rendering of African American vernacular English as a poetic diction, to the multiplicity of ‘Englishes’ registered on social media today, our national language is loud, disjointed, and comprised of irresistibly rhythmic polyphonic beats. Ilan Stavans’ extraordinary anthology invites us to see and reassess our reservoir of words that define the full range of American English, from countless disciplinary perspectives. This volume is destined to become an essential companion to future generations. Stavans, whose work on Spanglish has opened new scholarly paths, has made a major contribution to the vibrant, and still unfolding history of the English language.”

—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“All the contradictions and contests of American identity are right here, in American English. What a tremendous compendium this is, and what a story—the story, in word after word, of our glorious, polyglot democracy. Just fabulous!”

—Gish Jen, author of The Resisters and Thank You, Mr. Nixon

“After reading this incredible, historically deep, insightful collection The People’s Tongue, I want to run and forge a new poetry, a true all-encompassing, unabashed, language mural—heart-sharpened and nerve-inked—for all. I want to rhyme and stomp to the timbres and beats of Zora Neale Hurston, Natalie Diaz, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Chang-Rae Lee. I want to be the American I have always been, brother of all the Americans I have met on the Laureate road and heard singing in their own tongue on every soulful corner of every state of this nation. Bravo!”

—Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate Emeritus

“What a treat—we get to listen in at a gathering where Anne Winthrop talks to Kendrick Lamar while Noah Webster chats with Jhumpa Lahiri about what it means to be American. Anyone who’s passionate about language will love this account of 450 years of American English in all its swaggering, poetic, rowdy, multi-ethnic, funny, touching, vulgar, beautiful, angry, silly, and profound glory.”

—Jack Lynch, author of The Lexicographer’s Dilemma

The People’s Tongue is a vibrant, eclectic ride through the English language. This vital anthology, which brings together over 500 years of poems, speeches, and arguments as well as rap lyrics, tweets, and comedy routines, will spark many rich discussions about the power of language and the nature of democracy, but more importantly, will connect readers to diverse voices with something to say. The People’s Tongue belongs in writing and literature courses, reading groups, book clubs, and in the hands of any reader who wants to build the future by reflecting on the past.”

—Grace Talusan, author of The Body Papers

“There are few remaining threads that bind Americans to each other and to their past. The English language is one of them. That too is contested, and in this invaluable and timely anthology, Ilan Stavans has chosen powerful examples—from our Founding Fathers to our finest novelists to our latest pundits—that confirm how central our ever-changing language is to our national character.”

—James Shapiro, Professor of English, Columbia University

“Like Igor Stravinsky, Frank Zappa, and Charlie Parker, Ilan Stavans is a machine of endless innovation. Now he brings us a jazzy anthology that will delight, surprise, and unsettle readers. The People’s Tongue is an invaluable guide through the history and understanding of American English, a language that glues together this motley nation of 330-plus million souls. It confirms what we always knew: that our language exists through improvisation.”

—Paquito D’Rivera, GRAMMY Award Winner and 2005 NEA Jazz Master

Ilan Stavans is the publisher of Restless Books and a passionate lover of dictionaries, with a collection of over three hundred now housed in his personal collection at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published an assortment of books about language, including Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language (2003), Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion (2005), Resurrecting Hebrew (2008), and How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish (2020). He serves as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary and lives in Amherst, Mass.