Material English

Bibliographic details

Allington, D. (2012) ‘Material English’. In: Allington, D. and Mayor, B. (eds.) Communicating in English: Talk, Text, Technology. London: Routledge. pp. 267-292.

Extract in lieu of an abstract

As the previous chapters of this book have emphasised, texts do not exist outside of time, space and social institutions. Instead, they are produced, reproduced, exchanged and consumed in the course of social practices. This chapter aims to show that those practices rely not only on social convention, but also on technologies that in turn rely on economic systems.

As you will see, it is useful to think of the English language and its history in material terms – taking account of the physical nature of text – as well as in materialist terms – taking account of the economic bases of textual production and reproduction. Thinking in this way means analysing ‘the human motives and interactions which texts involve at every stage of their production, transmission, and consumption’ as well as investigating ‘the roles of institutions, and their own complex structures, in affecting the forms of social discourse’ (McKenzie, 1999 [1986], p. 15). This material(ist) approach has been described both as the sociology of texts and as the history of the book. It sees written, printed and digital texts as the products of complex ‘communications circuits’ involving not only writers and readers, but also printers, distributors, booksellers and others (Darnton, 1990). As this chapter will show, such an approach can teach us much about the history and sociology of the English language.

Allington, 2012, p. 267


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