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  • Race and the rise of Standard American by Thomas Paul Bonfiglio
  • Rusty Barrett
Race and the rise of Standard American. By Thomas Paul Bonfiglio. (Language, power and social process 7.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002. Pp. 258. ISBN 3110171902. $29.95.

This book presents an overview of the role of race in the history of language ideology in the United States. It is divided into three long chapters, with a short introduction and conclusion. After a brief review of discussions of symbolic power in the writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Pierre Bourdieu, Ch. 1 presents a theoretical background on language ideology and language standardization. Bonfiglio then reviews recent literature on language standardization, comparing standardization in Britain and the United States. The chapter concludes with outlines of the history of postvocalic /r/ in American dialects beginning with settlement patterns during the colonial period and ending with present attitudes towards ‘r-less’ dialects as clearly nonstandard.

Ch. 2 offers a history of ideologies of race and language from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, focusing on attitudes towards particular regional varieties and the emergence of the Midwest ‘heartland’ as home of the standard. In this chapter, B provides detailed discussions of the writings of Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, Henry James, H. L. Mencken, and Brander Matthews. This chapter also examines the relationship between language ideology and attitudes toward immigration, focusing on how immigration to the Northeastern US influenced attitudes towards the ‘r-less’ dialects adopted by immigrant communities. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the rise of ‘network standard’ in radio broadcasting and the adoption of ‘r-full’ dialects as the media standard.

Ch. 3 discusses the rise of the Midwest as home of the standard, focusing on the decision by Ivy League universities to actively recruit students from the Midwest and the ways in which the closing of the western frontier influenced language ideology. The final section examines the role of ideology in the social stratification of /r/ in New York City, providing detailed background on the social forces behind the status of /r/ in William Labov’s ground-breaking study of language variation in New York (Sociolinguistic patterns, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972). B demonstrates that ideas about ‘proper’ American English have always been linked to ideologies of ethnicity, arguing that the development of Standard English involved ideas about which dialects most strongly indexed white ethnic identity. B sees postvocalic /r/ as the primary linguistic trait in debates about American English and presents detailed historical documentation of attitudes towards ‘r-less’ dialects. His detailed discussion of attitudes toward postvocalic /r/ demonstrates the inadequacies of prior treatments of the development of this uniquely American trait. The book is very well researched and includes detailed documentation of changes in American language ideology. Although the book is written from a historian’s perspective, it provides insights typically missing from purely linguistic approaches and is an important contribution to the study of language ideology, language standardization, and language change. [End Page 510]

Rusty Barrett
University of Chicago


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