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Why do we quote?
Ruth Finnegan
The culture and history of quotation

Quoting is all around us. But do we really know what it means? How do people actually quote today, and how did our present systems come about? This book brings together a down-to-earth account of contemporary quoting with an examination of the comparative and historical background that lies behind it and the characteristic way that quoting links past and present, the far and the near. Drawing from anthropology, cultural history, folklore, cultural studies, sociolinguistics, literary studies and the ethnography of speaking, Ruth Finnegan's fascinating study sets our present conventions into cross cultural and historical perspective. She traces the curious history of quotation marks, examines the long tradition of quotation collections with their remarkable cycling across the centuries, and explores the uses of quotation in literary, visual and oral traditions. The book tracks the changing definitions and control of quoting over the millennia and in doing so throws new light on ideas such as 'imitation', 'allusion', 'authorship', 'originality' and 'plagiarism'.

In a highly interesting and well done book in the category of cultural nonfiction, Why Do We Quote? by author Ruth Finnegan is a worthwhile read. Pulling from anthropology, cultural history, folklore, cultural studies, socio-linguistics, literary studies, and the ethnography of speaking, the book provides an absolutely fascinating look at why people in our society quote others and how we do it. The book also serves as an excellent study into ideas like imitation, allusion, authorship, originality and plagiarism, and will make readers think deeply into our framework for why we think the way we do about quoting and our use of quotations. This book is both entertaining and educational, and readers will enjoy it from start to finish

I must admit, when I looked at Why Do We Quote? The Near and Far of Others' Words and Voices, my first thought was, "A whole book about quotations? How is that possible? And how could it be interesting?" But I was certainly surprised by author Ruth Finnegan's excellent work. Her work is amazing in that it presents form and usage of speech in a highly interesting fashion, and her style of historical inquiry into the topic almost makes one feel as if you are reading a whodunit mystery. I was drawn into this book from the very beginning, and enjoyed it so thoroughly that I read the whole thing in only a few sittings. I highly recommend Why Do We Quote? to any reader looking for a unique and interesting book with a wonderful historical perspective. I look forward to reading more from author Ruth Finnegan as soon as I can, and hope that she is hard at work on her next book!

It was very interesting to read about quotations. You might think that this subject matter would be boring, but it is not. Finnegan keeps us entertained with her dry sense of humor and quality written material. You cannot question her research because she has covered every single aspect of it and backed her theories with solid arguments. I wish I'd had a reference book like this when I was working on my research thesis.

Finnegan actually gives us so much more than simple quotations. She also talks about things that plague research students, such as the modern concepts of plagiarism and the originality of content and an idea. As research work is becoming far reaching and everyone and anyone is producing research on any given topic, this book will help students in deciding on their topics and making sure that their work remains “original” and not a “plagiarized idea.” I would recommend this book to students who want some guidance in their research work.

5 stars. Reviewed By Chris Fischer for Readers’ Favorite

Read an Excerpt

Until this book somehow crept under my guard I hadn't thought I was much interested in quoting or quotation: something to be deployed with care in some settings, no doubt, but not a thing to be investigated. Certainly I had learned to use quote marks at school and later to wield quotations in academic writing, and had become aware of copyright obligations and the current concerns about plagiarism and about unauthorised words floating free on the web. I was also vaguely aware that words and voices from elsewhere ran through what I said, I read them in books, recognised them in formal speeches, heard them in conversation. But I had just come to accept this as part of common practice, not anything to be really noticed, far less to arouse particular curiosity.

As I thought about it, I realised how little I knew about quoting and quotation. What does it mean, this strange human propensity to repeat chunks of text from elsewhere and to echo others' voices? How does it work and where did it come from? Does it matter? Why, anyway, do we quote?

I started by reflecting more carefully on my own experience and was startled by how quoting permeated my world. And then I wondered how others were using, or not using, quotation both nearby and in far away times and places. On some aspects I found a vast and fascinating literature. But there seemed no single account that directly tackled my questions about just what 'quotation' and 'quoting' were, how we had got to where we now are, and how in practice these had been used and conceptualised. This led me to considering how people here and now actually use quotation (in practice, that is, not just according to the grammar books) and also, going on from that, whether we might understand these present practices better by exploring something of their background and whether the problems currently causing concern belong just to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, or perhaps have longer roots.

Before I could move on to those wider issues I needed to devote some serious attention to examining what I call the 'here and now'. So the book begins from a lengthy example from contemporary England. Looking at the present gave me the interest and incentive to dig down further into what lies behind it. For the ways we and others quote now are not just random. Even the small matter of quote marks turns out to have a complex history of development and cultural controversy behind it. I hasten to add that this is not intended as a comprehensive history, certainly not a chronological narrative through from the 'beginning', or even systematically through a few centuries of Western history--either would be impossibly ambitious. Rather it uses a series of small case studies to sketch some historical background to where we are today and throw greater light on both past and present. It is only a limited study and largely--though certainly not exclusively--biased towards the products and practices of Western culture. But even that, I found, helped to put some perspective on the practices of today and both the recurrent and the changing patterns behind them.

Nonfiction Length: 348 Pages

Release Date: March 1, 2011 ISBN/ASIN: 1906924333

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About the Author

Ruth Finnegan OBE is Emeritus Professor, The Open University, Fellow of the British Academy and Hon. Fellow Somerville College Oxford.

She was born and reared in Ulster and Donegal in a family committed to reconciling the deep divides in Ulster and in the world, went to a Quaker school in York, followed by a first-class Oxford degree in classics/philosophy. Then African fieldwork, an Oxford doctorate in literary anthropology, university teaching in Africa, then many years ( with a short period in Fiji), with the pioneering Open University (UK) where she is now an honorary research professor.

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