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The Stories of English

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,229 ratings  ·  82 reviews
The English language is now accepted as the global lingua franca of the modern age, spoken or written in by over a quarter of the human race. But how did it evolve? How did a language spoken originally by a few thousand Anglo-Saxons become one used by more than 1,500 million? What developments can be seen as we move from Beowulf to Chaucer to Shakespeare to Dickens and the ...more
Paperback, 584 pages
Published September 6th 2005 by Harry N. Abrams (first published September 9th 2004)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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BAM Endlessly Booked
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reference, own
As the title suggests, this is the story of the development of the English language from Old English to modern Standard English, both spoken and written. At the start three points are made: most English speakers do not speak standard; a significant number of English authors do not write in standard; and a large number of computer users do not use standard. The book includes charts and maps as well as smaller sections to detail points discussed, and translates all archaic styles.

The word English
Mar 02, 2011 rated it liked it
The book is comprehensive, I will give Crystal that. My gripe is that this book seemed to want to be a book on language which is accessible to all readers, including those with no background in historical linguistics, so it began with a less-than-academic tone. But it quickly became clear that either Crystal possesses no other voice than that of the academic, or that he simply cannot resist adding even minor, niggling little details to pad every chapter. The narrative continued to slip into inte ...more
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, language
This book is the most comprehensive history of the English language you can find that is accessible to the non-linguist. It will help you understand why English spelling is such a disaster, how different dialects of English came to be different from each other, and why language change is not as evil as people might think. Reading this book will make you a better person.
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language
I'll return to this book one day as I've only read the first 7 chapters. Those on the development of Old English and the transition from there into Middle English are fascinating but I tired after that. Still, mission accomplished. I'm reading some of the Canterbury Tales before a trip to Canterbury in a few weeks and wanted to understand the language better. Crystal has given me some insight into Chaucer's use of dialect as well as the developing language in his time, both of which are very hel ...more
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
David Crystal's book is a succinct history of the English language, including the evolution of the spoken and written word, with a special focus on the large variety of dialects spoken today. Almost everything in the book was new to me, and I enjoyed the details on words from other languages, word variation over time, and the notes on pronunciation, usage, and grammar. Crystal's main thesis, that English never had a consistent style and tone, and that any attempts to force everyone into one woul ...more
Jon Stout
Apr 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: pedants and purists
Recommended to Jon by: NPR
Shelves: linguistics
When I read The History of Spanish, I wished I could find a similar history of English. The Stories of English pretty much fills the bill. It was enormously entertaining, offering countless examples of the evolution of words and of the adaptation of words from all over the world.

My first reaction was surprise. While I had previously thought of English as having a venerable tradition going back to antiquity, I came to realize that English is a hodgepodge of different influences, starting with Ce
Andrew Fish
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
English is not one language, but many and is destined to stay that way. From the divergent dialects which emerged from the Anglo-Saxon migrants of the fifth and sixth century, to the adapted variants of English which proliferate in countries subsequently colonized by the British, there have always been multiple strands to the language.

At the same time, there have long been those who insist that English should be standardized, simplified - tamed. Crystal's book is an exploration of these opposing
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: linguistics
Reading this has honestly been a year long project, as I've had to alternate this with many other dense readings for my thesis. BUT it's honestly a great and comprehensive guide to English. I think my favourite parts have to be the chapters on old english and up until middle English. The modern parts focused a little too much on prescriptivism-descriptivism for my liking because I feel like i've read that a million times before in uni, but like, a great book for lovers of English! I do wish it w ...more
Dec 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"The Stories of English" is a necessary, dense, well-researched volume by an expert who clearly has a true passion for the language and its variations. However, it has some clear advantages and some very clear flaws. (I'm fully aware that it's a bit bathetic of me to dismiss any writing but this most wonderful of linguists, however I adore all of his other books!)

Crystal's mandate is clever and clear: provide a history of the evolution of the English language, with a particular eye to studying "
Nov 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: words, nonfiction, history
Whew! Nearly 600 pages of history of how we talk! Sounds like heaven to me! And it was pretty interesting, although I've discovered that I'm much more interested in Old English than Middle or last century English. Modern dialects interest me too. I should have just skipped the middle of this book, since I got bogged down and ended up flipping guiltily through 4 chapters anyway!

This is really detailed. If you haven't got a clue who Bede was or why he matters (which, after last summer thank God, I
Malini Sridharan
Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I love this book and will be reading it again. The little boxed asides were fascinating, and the narrative was easy to follow-- I feel like I really grasp the timeline of the development of English for the first time.
While the last couple of chapters on more recent history were not as interesting to me, I definitely agreed with most of what Crystal had to say about the future of standard English.
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As a teacher of English I have a professional interest in the history of the language. This book falls that criteria and is full of interesting titbits. While it may be a little too detailed for the casual lay reader, it left me wanting more. I would have lived a bit more Information on the development of the rather idiosyncratic orthography of English, but other than that a very satisfying read. I particularly like his critique of "prescriptivism"!
May 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Bits were interesting, but much it was extremely tedious. Much of the section on Old English was confusing for someone who doesn't have a great deal of knowledge about the history of Great Britain.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book although it took me a while to read it. I'm not sure how I came to have the book. At first I thought it might be too erudite, but it was very approachable. I especially liked the pages on doublets taken from English and French used in law (pp 152-153). Many of the sidebar interludes were amusing. I can see re-reading it at some point.
Jul 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is hands-down the best one-dollar buy I’ve purchased in quite some time, as I picked up a barely-read hardback copy of this five-hundred-page-plus tome last weekend at Half-Price Books’ annual warehouse sale. (Which, tax-included, would have made it $1.09. But who’s quibbling here?) The subject matter is clearly massive here, unlike his shorter but just as erudite works in the past decade like Words, Words, Words, The Fight for English and By Hook or by Crook. In a nutshell, The Stories of ...more
Dec 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: linguistics
A one-volume popular history of the English language with a particular emphasis on the interplay between standard English and its nonstandard varieties. Such varieties must have been there since the beginnings of the language: a Saxon was a wielder of a seax (a kind of knife); if you look at a British regiment abroad today, you'll see speakers of many dialects; why would it have been different in 450 A.D.? Our corpus of Old English texts is only about 3/4 the size of the complete oeuvre of Charl ...more
Tom Carson
Oct 12, 2011 rated it liked it
In the Stories of English, David Crystal demonstrates, through his display of knowledge and his fluctuation between academic and casual tones, that the study of language and its history can be very interesting and alive. This is what makes this book a great read for the reader who has little background in the study of language and who wants a comprehensive overview of the history of English.

Unfortunately, considering Crystal's own proposal in the introduction of the book, this is not the sole pu
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book has opened my eyes to the development of the English language in all its forms which is still going on. David Crystal starts his story by firmly debunking the linear evolutionary narrative of English from Saxon times to reach the pinnacle of modern standard English. We discover the origins of Old English with its mix of Saxon and Norse and that there were different dialects of Old English throughout the country. David Crystal then takes us on a thoroughly well researched journey throug ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Crystal is in love with (English) language. So very much that he decided to dedicate his life to the studying of it. So very much that he wrote a book about its history on the British Isles.

I have a soft spot for linguistic enthusiasts. My whole life has been influenced by language. Growing up multilingual and reading everything that came on my path has given me this inappeasable thirst for words, written or spoken. And who would better understand this fascination than a fellow language geek?

Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A vast info-dump. It reads like the production of a privately-printing seventeenth-century antiquary who has written down many thing that interest him and has had no publishers telling him to remember consumer demographics or to keep it under three hundred pages. Which is not to say that it's a mess, it's not, but arranged chronologically and squeezed in to chapters. But there's a definite sense of spread caused, I think, by the astounding levels of detail. Crystal hates sweeping statements and ...more
Oct 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone keen on why English is like it is
This hits all the right buttons for me - I am a lexicographer who missed her vocation. One of the first books I ever read about Linguistics in the 70s was by David Crystal so it was great to find him still producing books now. I love the complexity of English - I teach TEFL on occasions and know that one of the complaints from students is 'why are there some many ways to say something?'. This book gives the background to that. I am fascinated by the origins of English and enjoy trying to get my ...more
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book manages to be both comprehensive and accessible to the non-specialist reader as Crystal details the evolution of the English language from pre-Roman times to the modern day and also ponders how it might develop in future. He also champions regional and national dialects and highlights how, although schools try to teach a Standard form of English, there really is no such thing. All varieties of English are just as valid and just as much worth studying as any other. Points are highlighte ...more
Dec 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read the majority of this book for university and read the remainder of it because I found it an enjoyable non-fiction on a subject which interests me. For me, it was way more effective as a non-fiction than as a university coursebook. The information is incorporated in a reader-friendly narrative, which can distract you from the actual information when you read it as academic source material. Moreover, I found Crystal quite repetitive within chapters. It is a chunky non-fiction, but re ...more
Jan 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: linguistics
comprehensive, scholarly, and emminently readable, if a touch UK-centric (understandably on the whole, but irritatingly for the last 10% of the work).

rather than go into detail, i'll say this: if you've an interest in the english language that's more than passing, but you don't have a doctorate in linguistics, you should read this book. it was challenging at times -- and, to be honest, it dragged at times -- but it was a master's level overview of the speak from its anglo-saxon roots to modern n
Chuck Lipsig
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language
I finally got through this fascinating book that concentrates on the development of English, not just as it's standard versions, but, in particular, the non-standard versions. The author makes the case that prescriptive standard English may have its place, but non-standard accents, dialects, and the like are just as important.

He faces some difficulty is that there are periods of history where there simply is very little if anything in the non-standard English to go by and, perhaps, he may have
Holly Cruise
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language, culture
Thick, weighty and very very thorough tome on the English languages (yes, plural). David Crystal is the man when it comes to linguistics, and here he brings his usual eye to the development of the different forms of English used throughout history. Observational rather than prescriptive (thank god) he shows how changes came about, points out oddities we might not have realised, and generally demolishes the notion that we can freeze the language as a museum piece, presenting it rather as a living ...more
Jan 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: language-nerd
The description of this text is a bit misleading, I thought this would be lighter and a little more accessible for non-linguists. This is a super comprehensive look at the evolution of the English language. Despite being a huge language nerd, not gonna lie, it took me a while to get through this one. Some parts were engaging and easy to get through, but other parts seemed redundant and tended to put me to sleep. It also didn't help that I had downloaded a really buggy copy that kept messing up t ...more
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started this book hoping that I would read it quickly and take what I may need from it. 'The Stories of English' proved far too interesting - a good combination of witty style (without becoming at all facetious or aimlessly meandering about a topic) and a plethora of truisms, data and facts - which enthralled me for days as I tried to remember every little mote of information I could gleen from the leaves. Definitely worth reading; certainly it was the right kind of heavy and offered a new per ...more
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
An excellent introduction into the history of English, highly readable providing you aren't a complete linguistic novice. At some points it was quite dry, particularly in the later chapters, which were fairly repetitive and seemed to have an overly positive view of the future for language development, but I did find the beginning very interesting as it both gave an insight into the history of the language and the history of the UK itself.
Oct 18, 2015 rated it liked it
I read this as an introduction for a University module (2nd year). It's an interesting read, but quite dry in places, it took quite a slog and several bored days at work to get through it. If you want a fairly comprehensive introduction to English's linguistic history (and a little European history too) along side the development of our many borrowed words then it's a great read but I wouldn't recommend trying to read it cover to cover as I did.
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David Crystal works from his home in Holyhead, North Wales, as a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster. Born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland in 1941, he spent his early years in Holyhead. His family moved to Liverpool in 1951, and he received his secondary schooling at St Mary's College. He read English at University College London (1959-62), specialised in English language studies, did some rese ...more

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