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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
When Professor David Crystal's new book "Spell It Out: the Singular Story of English Spelling" came out on 6 September 2012, a few weeks later it was a bestseller on Amazon, ahead of the erotic trilogy "The Fifty Shades of Grey". Cooking. Spelling. Sex. That was the order. English spelling sexier than sex! Could it have ever occurred to the Anglo-Saxon bards that we would come to this?

"Spell It Out" is more than a reader-friendly, comprehensible and comprehensive story of the history and evolvement of English spelling - Professor Crystal gives practical advice in Teaching Appendix as well as throughout the book. Memorising random lists of difficult words is not the solution as practice over ages has shown. The author believes and demonstrates that we need a linguistic take on getting to know the system which is not as bizarre and unassailable as popularly condemned; explaining is key, so is acquainting children with basic etymology at an early age. Professor Crystal is brilliantly convincing: "The story of the English writing system is so intriguing, and the histories behind individual words so fascinating, that anyone who dares to treat spelling as an adventure will find the journey rewarding."

In "Spell It Out", the many shades of English spelling are accurately examined, exposed, and entertainingly explained. And who but David Crystal could make English spelling more appealing and seductive a subject than "the office between the sheets"!

How many stars for this book? As many as there are spelling rules (and exceptions) in English!

For my full review see HuffPost UK Culture blog.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
A really interesting and entertaining book - gives one insight into the origins of the weird and wonderful versions of words in the English language; the historical research is comprehensive and fascinating. A must-read for all lovers of the language and how it got to what it is.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book describes the methods of various interesting people who tried to fit all the sounds of English into 26 letters. It is filled with entertaining anecdotes and illuminating insights. Anyone who loves the English language should buy this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
It's a really good help for students who like to know and find out more about words in English language
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Very interesting. Well researched and detailed. I am sure anyone teaching English or English as a second language will find it useful.
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on March 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I picked up this book at the library since I love language, but I started skipping chapters after the first few pages because it's so boring. And then "It's a commonplace" at the beginning of chapter 26 (chapter 26? I'm not even half-way through). You're trying to teach us about language, grammar, etc, but can't even write correctly?
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on February 18, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
A great book for those with a penchant for the English language, and an open mind to see how language is a living thing.
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on August 28, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
A great deal of knowledgeable information about the English language and its history, to be taken in small doses in order to absorb the facts presented. Good value.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
Having recently read Masha Bell's ebook `Spelling it out: the problems and costs of English spelling', I could not resist also buying David Crystal's much hyped book with a similar title. Sadly, I found this one very disappointing. It is masterfully written, but says nothing new, or helps with teaching or learning to spell.

He repeats the hackneyed and wrong old claim that the problems of English spelling stem from having only 26 letters for representing 40+ speech sounds. - Learning to spell English is difficult not because it has too few letters, or combinations of them, like `igh', but because its roughly 44 sounds are now spelt with at least 205 different letters and letter strings.

This would not have happened if the people who shaped the system had been at all concerned about alphabetic consistency or ease of learning. They would not have standardised the use of umpteen different spellings for one sound, such as for /ee/ in 'speak - seek, shriek, seize, siege, scene, ski, key, quay), or tolerated the use of one spelling for different sounds (drove - dove, move).

Crystal's claim that English spelling is more systematic, and not nearly as bad, as most people think, that only 25% of English words contain one or more tricky letters, such as `high, height, buy, fly, pie', is also wrong. Bell's analysis of the 7,000 most used English words found 3,695 (a little over half) that are tricky to spell in some way. (They are listed on one of her blogs.) Earlier analyses (by Hannah and Hannah in the 1950s and E. Carney in the 1990s) had obtained the same result. - If you want to know exactly what makes learning to read and write English difficult, and why, you had better read Bell's book instead. It also gives a much clearer, although shorter, account of how English has ended up being spelt the way it is.

Crystal's aim in writing this book was supposedly to help with learning to spell. At a higher educational level, it may even do so a little. Learning about the history of a mind-boggling spelling like `accommodation' may help with imprinting it on your mind. But when such words are spelt more simply in the first place, like `acomodacion' in Spanish, there is no need for it.

Moreover, the use of historical or Latin aides-memoires is hardly feasible when teaching children to spell the hundreds of tricky high frequency words, such as `any, many, said, friend, brother', with which they first start learning to write. Mastering those is the hardest part of learning to spell English, and Crystal is of no help whatsoever with that.
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