John Honey’s Language is Power

Honey’s book, published in 1997, is a controversial publication, to put it mildly.

We are looking for reviews of the book in addition to the ones by Peter Trudgill, Roy Harris and Paul Bennett. A rejoinder to Trudgill’s review appeared in the Journal of Sociolinguistics.

Here is a list of the reviews we have found out about so far:

  • Peter Trudgill: Journal of Sociolinguistics 2,3, pp. 457-461, 1998 (Blackwells) (online)
  • Roy Harris: Times Higher Education Supplement, 5 September 1997 (online)
  • Paul Bennett: ‘Offpress’, the newsletter of the Society of Editors (Queensland), 2000 (online)

Kate Wild in her comment to this post mentions a reaction by John Honey to the critical reception of his book in English Today (see reference below), as well as a review by Jean Aitchison in the Sunday Times on 14 September 1997. Honey himself refers to a review in the Economist, presumably from around the same time. Details are very welcome.

  • John Honey (1998), “The Straw Hippopotamus”. English Today 55, Vol. 14/3, 41-44.

If you know of more reviews, please tell us about them.

Meanwhile (13 April 2017), I’ve just found another review:

  • James P. Lantolf, review article ‘Exchanging standards’, English in Education 32/3, 1998. Honey wrote a response to the review (English in Education 1999, 33/2, 52-55).

We would also like to know whether Honey’s book is still read today. One post from September 2009 on a blog called i love english language suggests that it is. And we have recently learnt that it was used as a coursebook at the University of Edinburgh. Comments very welcome.

David Crystal reviewed John Honey’s pamphlet The Language Trap (1983) in the BAAL Newsletter 18; the review was reprinted in English in Education (NATE), Spring 1984, 18(1), 54-65, and it is also available online.


John Honey (1997),  Language is Power. The Story of Standard English and its Enemies. London/Boston: Faber and Faber.

Honey, John. 2000. A response to Peter Trudgill’s review of Language is Power. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4/2. 316-19.

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3 Responses to John Honey’s Language is Power

  1. Kate Wild says:

    Honey wrote an article in English Today (‘The Straw Hippopotamus’, 1998, no.55) in which he gives counter-arguments against some of his reviewers. He mentions a review by Jean Aitchison in the Sunday Times.

  2. Paul Bennett says:

    I wrote a review of ‘Language is Power’ which was published in 2000 in ‘Offpress’, the newsletter of the Society of Editors (Queensland). I modified it slightly for a general audience and you can find it at
    I am an editor-in-the-street with no formal English qualifications; this untrammelled-by-education review, then, could be interesting because it may help bridge the gap between the masses of English-speakers who take a close interest in the construction and use of the language, and those whose profession it is to explain those things.

  3. I also have reviews by Doug Kibbee (in the Journal of Linguistics 1998) and Christopher Rollason (in Terminology and Translation 2001), and an article by Alan Davies (in World Englishes 1999) which discusses Honey’s book.

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