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4.5 out of 5 stars71
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on 30 October 2012
A comprehensive account of the development of English spelling over the past thousand years that explains exactly what happened and why. A key text for anyone teaching English, and of great interest to anyone who ever wondered why it is as it is. Brilliant scholarship, clear explanation - a very important book indeed, in fact one of the most important ever written about the English language.
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on 13 October 2012
A real eye-opener of a book. Speaking and writing the language every day means you're thinking more about what
you're expressing rather than how you're expressing it. Once you start reading this book it really is hard to put down. Behind the (odd and quirky) spelling of a lot of words the author gives fascinating and logical reasons why certain words are spelt the way they are. Not only the spelling but also the pronunciation. If you are at all interested in the English language buy it.
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on 4 November 2012
As a TEFL teacher in Portugal, I have always sympathized with students in their attempts to cope with the intricacies (or eccentricities) of English spelling. Here is a worthy attempt to throw light on a seemingly unfathomable aspect of the English language, a daunting task from which most of us would run a mile. This book is beautifully written, clear, concise and full of valuable nuggets of information. (I therefore disagree totally with the one-star reviewer.) Indeed, Prof. Crystal succeeds admirably in another daunting task, namely that of avoiding overly academic 'edubabble' while never once being guilty of condescension.

I have only one criticism and one 'niggle'. The criticism is that I was always waiting in vain for a chapter on the lack of diacritics, i.e. accents, in English. In Portuguese, whenever the stress is anywhere other than on the penultimate syllable, this is indicated by an accent. Hence 'cágado' (tortoise)is very different from 'cagado' (taboo: 'covered in excrement'). Meanwhile, students of English are left unaided to cope not only with the vagaries of English spelling but its vagaries of stress, e.g. 'famous/infamous'; 'advert/
advertisement'. In a book purporting to deal with the oddities of English written forms, this seems to me to be an omission. One may argue that diacritics do not actually affect spelling. But this to ignore the fact that the purpose of writing is essentially (with the possible exception of essay-writing for exams) to communicate something that will be read, either aloud or silently. Either way, in English a mystifying arrangement of letters is compounded by a total lack of information regarding syllable stress.

Oh yes, my niggle. I take issue with Prof. Crystal when he suggests that the medial consonant in the word 'government' is never pronounced, either in formal or informal speech. I would contend that, albeit almost mute, the medial 'n' is present and that few 'good' speakers would say 'govemment'. Just as I can always tell the difference between 'I drive' and 'I'd drive'.

Despite all this, I would recommend Prof. Crystal's book to all those interested in the English language, a recommendation I would extend to all his other books. (And in support of that, I can now spell 'recommend'!)
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 24 September 2012
OK it's not totally the fault of the French, but 1066 had a lot to do with how English spelling has evolved over time as have many other languages. Linguist David Crystal explores the evolution of English spelling in a remarkably easy to follow fashion with good humour and loads of examples and anecdotes. My one criticism is that inevitably, given the size of the task, this is quite a short volume and the bibliography for further reading is a tad sparse as well, so if you are already "into" language and spelling I'm not sure there is much that will be new to you here but for the casual reader this is a good introduction to the subject and is well worth a dip.
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on 1 December 2012
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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on 27 May 2013
An excellent book about English spelling.

If you've ever wondered why certain words are spelled a certain way, why similar words have different arrangements, and why similar sounding words are spelled differently, David Crystal makes it clear by explaining word origins.

A complex subject has been turned into an easy read, with short, snappy chapters.
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on 29 September 2012
Spell it Out- for me it starts well, then gets a bit long-winded but finishes with with some top advice which made the whole read worthwhile. The book is not as entertaining as Prof David Crystal's excellent The Story of English in 100 Words and I am sure a reader who has a knowledge of phonetics would find it easier going (I haven't). That said, I really admired the way David Crystal discusses the influence of the Internet and globalisation- not at all defensive but he suggests we do need to rise to the challenge. Considering young people he says:

"These 'natives' of the Internet have to learn to cope with an online orthographic diversity that is much greater than anything older people ever experienced on the printed page. Faced with a bewildering array of orthographic choices, they have to develop confidence to make the right decisions for the written tasks they need to complete".

The book finishes with two excellent appendices which offer some good advice to teachers of English; learning to spell is helped by putting words in context, by frequency of occurrence and within 'word-families'. Finally the author suggests giving each child a thesaurus and a dictionary- great idea.
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on 7 June 2013
This book is more than 'spelling' as the history of the English language is so closely tied up in it. I strongly recommend buying this book. Mine has not been returned to me in more than six months as it has gone from English teacher to History teacher and round and round. I can't say enough about the content and I don't like to give away information when an author has gone to so much trouble to present the evidence so much better than I can here but I will say, just as a snippet, the French/Norman influence brought us silent letters - consider the Irish pronunciation of 'think' as 'teh-hink' where all the letters are sounded. Making a sound from two letters together or creating a sound such as cough (coff) is an amazing development. The effects of latin and the changes brought in because of the printing industry (extra letters added to justify the text!) and new letters added to the alphabet for reasons you will discover. When writing this review the book was still fairly new and has no collectors value: buy it now. Explaining how and why words evolved could be the key to helping some children learn to spell.

If you are interested in history, English or just want to get your spelling right - read this book!
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on 19 January 2014
I found this book really interesting if perhaps a little long-winded in places. Once the history and background to some of our odd seeming spellings has been explained, then correct spelling falls into place naturally. Should be required reading for all primary school teachers.
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on 3 February 2014
This book manages to pull together so many different aspects about how spelling has developed, giving a coherent, lucid overview of the reasons why English looks like it does. Fascinating, useful and written by an expert who has a gift for communicating.
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