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The Stories of English Hardcover – September 9, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-1585676019 ISBN-10: 1585676012 Edition: BC ed.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover; BC ed. edition (September 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585676012
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585676019
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #373,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Leading British linguist Crystal (Shakespeare's Words) immediately distinguishes his pluralistic study of English's evolution from the standard, narrowly focused histories by describing not only how it evolved on an isolated island example from a Germanic language to the standard English we know today., but also on marginalized regional dialects, vernaculars and other "nonstandard" examples, beginning with the origins of Old English. He shows, for example, how even Chaucer and Shakespeare embraced dialects in The Canterbury Tales and Henry V. There are also lighter moments, such as Crystal's examination of the Anglo-Saxon intonations of Yoda in Star Wars and of Tolkein's Middle Earth idioms. Writing of the 18th century, the author contrasts the proscriptions of Dr. Johnson and others regarding spelling, grammar and pronunciation with the efforts of Americans such as Noah Webster to differentiate American from British English. (Regional and ethnic variations elsewhere in the British Empire receive more cursory treatment.) However, Crystal glosses over the current status struggle in the U.K. between more "authentic" dialects, such as the northern Liverpudlian, and newer ones, such as the suburban Estuary English. As for the language's future, Crystal wishes to see Standard English taught alongside familiarization with the varieties of dialects. Although he doesn't spell out how to accomplish this, his well-informed and appealing book makes a good case for the importance of dialects. 9 b&w illus., 12 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* For at least 200 years, the story of English has been the story of Standard English triumphant. But now, in a work of unprecedented scope and range, a distinguished linguist challenges that deceptive hegemony, showing with piquant detail and lively anecdote that no standards of correctness have ever really contained the surging energy of English, in all it multiform varieties. From the syntactical inventiveness of tenth-century Norse invaders to the lexical ecumenism of twenty-first-century Tex-Mex ranch hands, Crystal traces the diverse and unpredictable influences that have shaped English into an unruly family of dialects, creoles, and patois. To be sure, Crystal acknowledges the emergence during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries of a prestigious standard version of English. Yet he shows in instance after instance that the tempests of linguistic change have often overwhelmed the custodians of the King's English, compelling them to accommodate forces they could not control. And though he never loses his focus on language, Crystal allows some of its more colorful users--including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Jefferson--to bring their personalities and voices into the chronicle. Accessible to the nonspecialist, Crystal's rich chronicle still presses deeply enough into key episodes (the Great Vowel Shift and the Elizabethan effervescence, for instance) to entice even casual readers into the more scholarly sources listed at the end of the book. Why, after all, should professional philologists hog all the fun? Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

David Crystal can certainly write well and explain concepts in an entertaining and informative manner.
I. Holder
This book would make a fine textbook or corollary reading for a college course dealing with the history of the English language.
Larry K. Uffelman
As the title suggests, the book tells the various stories by which the English language has come to be what it is today.
Tim North

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Larry K. Uffelman on February 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
David Crystal's "The Stories of English" is an excellent book. Here's why. For one thing, his approach to the history of the English language is significantly different from that taken by most other authors on the subject. For another, his presentation is linguistically professional without being dull.

The title of the book is important: it focuses the thesis. Crystal traces the development of standard English, as do other historical linguists and such popularizers as Robert MacNeil and Bill Bryson, but-different from them-he traces it alongside the development of competing non-standard, dialects. He insists that one needs to see standard English developing and then existing alongside these other dialects. There are, he urges, several "stories of English," each of which can and should be appreciated.

Crystal argues that there are, in fact, several standard forms of English, each with its own history as it diverges from standard British English. There is, for example, standard American English, standard Canadian English, standard Australian English, and so on, each with a number of non-standard varieties existing alongside it. And there are varieties of English employed in such nations as India, where they provide communication across native language lines and exhibit their own characteristics. The very term "standard" English requires definition.

Amazingly, given the subject he covers and given that he is a professional linguist, Crystal writes accessibly for an educated general audience. For one thing, he breaks into his narrative to offer specific examples and details set off in boxes from the main text.
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83 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Calum in the Caribbean on October 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I am very pleased to have read this book, but I was glad to reach the end on page 534. I found the multitude of facts incredibly detailed and sometimes repetitive. The occasional flashes of humour and interesting snippets kept me going, particularly as the author came closer to modern times. This book is probably required reading for students of the English language. For interested amateurs it might at times prove to be heavy going.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By John Duncan on April 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
David Crystal makes an ambitious attempt to provide a scholarly account of the development of the forms of English that we speak today from the highly inflected language -- virtually unintelligible to the modern English speaker -- that existed before the Norman Conquest. It is not primarily an academic work, as it largely avoids the technicalities involved in analysing and reconstructing the grammar and vocabulary of historical forms of English, but it is uncompromising in providing a wealth of examples from over the centuries. It is not light reading, therefore, but it is perfectly accessible to anyone who makes the effort.

There are at least two surprising aspects of the early history of English that Crystal tries to explain. First of all, how did it pass from the Anglo-Saxon of the 11th Century to the Middle English of the 14th, recognizably the same language that we speak today, in such a short time, with relatively little change in the longer period since? Nearly all of the old inflections disappeared in this period, and a torrent of words of French origin were adopted. Clearly this happened during a time when English was not the language of power in England, as the rulers were speaking French. That in itself brings us to the second surprise, one that is rarely pointed out, but is obvious once it is: why was it English that ultimately survived in England, and not the language of the conquerors? In other cases, such as the use of Portuguese in modern Brazil, it is the language of the conquerors that displaces whatever existed before.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Tim North on November 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I had the good fortune to stumble across this wonderful book recently, and I found it both entertaining and informative.

As the title suggests, the book tells the various stories by which the English language has come to be what it is today. (It's as much about history and politics as it is about language.)

This isn't the only book to cover these topics, of course, but at 584 pages this is certainly one of the most comprehensive and well researched.

What makes this work so special is that it doesn't just concentrate on the history and character of "standard" English:

Indeed, for every one person who speaks Standard English,

there must be a hundred who do not, and another hundred

who speak other varieties as well as the standard. Where

is their story told? (p. 5)

In this vein, it tells the stories of the rise of British English, American English, Scottish English, creoles, street slang and, most recently, Internet English.

It argues that we're presently in the middle of a period of rapid change and growth of English, and these are among some of its many conclusions (p. 529):

1. Language change is normal and unstoppable, reflecting

the normal and unstoppable processes of social change.

2. Language variation is normal and universal, reflecting

the normal and universal diversity of cultural and social

groups.

...

4. A highly diversified society needs nonstandard varieties

('nonstandard language') to enable groups of people to

express their regional or cultural identity.

I recommend this enjoyable and instructive work to anyone who has an interest in this wonderful and diverse language: English.

(c) 2005 Tim North: [...]
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More About the Author

David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. He has written or edited over 100 books and published numerous articles for scholarly, professional, and general readerships, in fields ranging from forensic linguistics and ELT to the liturgy and Shakespeare. His many books include Words, Words, Words (OUP 2006) and The Fight for English (OUP 2006).

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