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4.3 out of 5 stars49
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 27 January 2009
This is a long and thorough - but never dull - read, tracing the history of the English language from its obscure Germanic origins to its current international status, and giving particular attention to `non-standard' forms such as dialects, regional accents and alternative spellings. Many interesting questions are dealt with on the way: why does English contain so few Celtic words? Why did we finally end up saying `comes' and `goes' rather than `cometh' and `goeth'? How does dialect work in Tolkein's Middle Earth? David Crystal tells us about the influence of phrases from the King James Bible and Shakespeare, how Keats wrote `I should of written', the consequences of printing on the language, the development of dictionaries, the etymologies of kiosk (Turkish), caravan (Persian) and dungaree (Hindi), and the use of alliteration in Old English verse. I felt like I had an English Degree by the end of the book - better still, the author's enthusiasm is so infectious and his arguments so absorbing that I felt like doing one!
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on 15 July 2012
My review is not of the content of the book, to which I would issue five stars for the same reasons as my predecessors leaving feedback, but is for the physical readability of the text (and I wear glasses, but am not blind!). The content of the book is highly accessible for the novice interested in learning more about the origins and development of world Englishes, but my eyes are so fatigued after just three pages, that I need to put it down even though the content is quite understandable. After making it halfway through the second introduction, I knew there was no way I would finish the book, even though my Open University students have it on their recommended reading list for my sociolinguistics module. What I recommend is keeping a hard copy for those moments when you might use Crystal as a source, but if you want to actually read it like a book, from cover to cover, buy the kindle version and it will be much easier on the eyes. For future editions, I hope the publishers might find it in their hearts to be a little more generous with the font size even though it will take up more paper. It would be well worth it.
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on 27 July 2004
In this authoritative history of the English language, David Crystal tells two different stories: one is about the development of standard English, and the other is about all its fascinating variant forms (dialects, slangs, the sociolects of particular groups - e.g. Internet users and hobbits!). The value of this is that so-called non-standard forms of English aren't demonized, as they have been in many other histories of the language. Yet at the same time Crystal explains why there are virtues in a standard version of English. This is a well-written book, covering a huge amount of material in pleasingly manageable chunks, with some great asides and interludes (Father Ted, anybody?). It beats the competition hands down.
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on 24 January 2005
David Crystal is quite probably the best authority there is on the English language past and present, and in "The Stories of English" he has visibly excelled himself. From "Beowulf" and the earliest documents in Old English right up to the specific features of text-messaging, and looking beyond to the twenty-first-century English-speaking world of his grandchildren, here is an impeccably researched history of the language.
The title gives an immediate clue to the originality of this book, throughout which Professor Crystal is at pains to show that, alongside "standard English", there are all the other varieties of the language which, in the name of a purism which he skilfully shows to be misplaced, have most often been either denigrated or ignored by other historical works of this kind.
Perhaps David Crystal's major achievement is that he succeeds in being scholarly without ever being pedantic. His attention to detailed research is impressive, and yet the reader never once gets bogged down in theoretical linguistics. The writer's approach is resolutely of a sociolinguistic nature, and he constantly draws attention to the links between language and society and the way in which the evolution of one is always conditioned by the evolution of the other. He is particularly good on the language of Shakespeare, and unsparing in his criticism of the "absolute rubbish" propagated on the subject of the bard by "enthusiastic linguistic amateurs".
But David Crystal's book really makes its major point in the way in which prescriptive norms are demonstrated to be arbitrary - however necessary they may also be. The book sets out an unanswerable counter-argument to all those who earnestly equate "good" English with good behaviour, and even with morality. The writer points out, with wonderful deadpan humour, that "some of the most respectable people I know speak nonstandard grammar; and conversely, there are several villains around whose standard grammar is impeccable."
Professor Crystal's book reads like a novel, and in a sense it is both an adventure story and a love story. The hardback is a work of art, with an index and very complete bibliographical sources. And, as far as I could see, not a single printing mistake. And not a syllable out of place, either.
If you're interested in the history of the English language, don't wait for the paperback, splash out £25 and get this. It's worth every penny.
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on 20 September 2008
I have come late to English having only just scraped a pass at O level 35 years ago. I was sitting on a plane and saw someone on the seat opposite the aisle reading this book. From the little I could see it looked interesting and at the end of the flight when he stopped reading, I fortunately glimpsed the cover as he put it away. I was then straight onto Amazon and located it.

This is a wonderful book, incredibly illuminating and authoritative but at the same time straightforward and attention gripping. However it's not for the faint-hearted having many, many pages of small text. It took me several months to read cover to cover - but I'm glad I did...
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on 18 January 2010
This is the story of the development of the English language - both standard and non-standard forms. In this book Crystal presents the correlation between social, political and economical changes alongside the language changes of the same period. This makes for a very interesting read and is clearly thoroughly researched.

There is a lot of information in this book but it's very accessible and not overly academic. I have read other history of English themed books and this one for me was by far the best. I don't think you need to be a student of English Language to enjoy or learn from this book.

The book itself is presented chronologically in small sections, with some interesting asides thrown in. The best thing about this book is the passion for language Crystal conveys in his writing. It is nearly 600 pages of very small text, but I wasn't bored once. His enthusiasm for the subject carried me through and made it effortless to pick up and continue learning - I genuinely wanted to.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the development of the English language.
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on 26 June 2008
Another excellent book by the Language Expert, David Crystal. This was on the recommended reading list for a module of my English degree course, and found it both a fascinating and useful read. Would recommend to anyone studying Linguistics or for anyone who has a general interest in the English Language.
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on 9 September 2009
I use reading glasses and have no problem reading with them. However - I found the size of the text too small in this book and consequently I have not been able to read it. Straining takes all the pleasure out of reading and so I would say - try to buy another edition with standard sized print or you may not enjoy it. I was so looking forward to enjoying this topic (during a 3 week holiday) but had to give up after 2 pages. I am sure that I would have been able to give it a good review had I been able to plough through it!
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on 11 September 2012
This is a review of the Kindle edition. I bought this because it was 'recommended reading' for an Open University module that I'm studying. The subject matter, English in all its wonderful varieties, is well-presented. By-and-large the book is an easy read, and I recommend it to anybody who has any interest in the English language. The 'but' is the 'panels' that crop up in each chapter. These are digressions to examine some aspect more closely. In the paper copy, these 'panels' are clearly marked in boxes. In the Kindle version, there is no such marking. You just get a panel number and heading, then the panel text. You have no indication where the panel finishes, so the sentence you're reading could be part of the panel or a continuation of the main text. This can affect the flow of your reading. (Well, it affected the flow of my reading, from time to time.)

Being severely short-sighted, I agree with vikki650 that the text size on the Kindle makes this book easy on the eyes. (The smallest text size is too large on my Kindle apps, if anything!) I wish I could give it 4.5 stars. The issue with the panels is a niggle, but not worth docking a full star.
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on 16 February 2013
I am in awe of David Crystal's knowledge of the English Language & now read a bit of him daily alongside an English Literature set text. He has a lovely writing style & The Stories Of English reads like a detective story. Yes, I forget most of the key information almost as soon as I've read it but in the moment of reading it is highly enjoyable & compelling! His ability to leave you wanting more at the end of each chapter & stage of history makes him more like a literary storyteller than your average, bog-standard text-book writer! At 43, I am part of the Literature-only generation of students &, despite an English & Philosophy degree & 10 years of English teaching in the 1990s, I have managed to avoid English Language studying to date. However, David Crystal has a real gift for making the subject accessible & entertaining & his grasp of the subject is breathtaking! You really feel you are reading The Master!I am now reading his latest book on Spelling & it is equally fab although I think Stories of English will always have a special place in my heart as the book that got me hooked on DC!
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