The birthplace of America’s first lexicographer, Noah Webster, will host author and Professor of Linguistics Lynne Murphy on Thursday, April 19, 2018 at 7 p.m. Murphy will present a talk on her book, The Prodigal Tongue, followed by a Q&A session. This event is free and open to the public, though registration is required.
Across the pond, Brits have scoffed that Americans are ruining the English language. Here in the U.S., Americans fawn over British accents and giggle at the preposterous syllables in gobsmacked and kerfuffle. Differences abound – the spelling of colo(u)r, the pronunciation of garage, whether you eat mashed potato or mashed potatoes – leading to the frequent quip that the U.S. and the U.K. are “separated by a common language.” These disagreements and differences are often repeated, but rarely examined – until now. In The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English, Lynne Murphy explores the special relationship (and sibling rivalry) between English on both sides of the Atlantic. As an American linguist teaching in England, she is in a unique position to analyze the ever-evolving English language and unravel the prejudices, stereotypes, and insecurities that shape our attitudes toward it.
With great humo(u)r and new insights, Murphy looks at the social, political and linguistic forces that have driven American and British English apart: how Americans got from centre to center, why British and American accents are diverging further from each other, and what different things we mean when we say estate, frown, or middle class. Is anyone winning this war of the words? Will Yanks and Brits ever really understand each other?
Lexicographer and author Kory Stamper, who spoke about her debut book Word by Word at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in 2017, says The Prodigal Tongue is, “a welcoming and refreshing revelation… [Murphy] pulls back the curtain not just on our language, but our shared quirks, loves, and frustrations, and in the process, extols our linguistic differences as part of the rich history of English and the nations that speak it.” Webster’s War of the Words contestant and language columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Ben Zimmer, adds, “No one knows how to navigate the transatlantic language divide better than Lynne Murphy. Moving beyond facile stereotypes about British and American English, she delves into subtle linguistic nuances with wit and aplomb.”
Murphy pillories the ideas that one kind of English is more pure or precise, that American and British English will soon be indistinguishable, or that the language can be hurt by speaking it wrong. Where better to discuss the prevailing differences between American and British English than the birthplace of Noah Webster, Father of American English? Join us on Thursday, April 19, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, 227 South Main Street, West Hartford, CT. This event is free to the public. Space for this program is extremely limited. Reservations are required and may be acquired at noahwebster.yapsody.com.
Lynne Murphy grew up in New York State and studied linguistics at UMass Amherst and the University of Illinois. She has taught at universities in South Africa and Texas and published a broad range of academic works on meaning and English. She is now Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex and author of the award-winning blog, Separated by a Common Language. As @lynneguist she tweets the U.S.-U.K. Difference of the Day. She lives in Brighton, England, with her English husband and dual-citizen daughter.
The museum would like to thank the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Greater Hartford Arts Council for their continued support.