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Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling Paperback – 1 May 2007

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Delta (May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385340842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385340847
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 18.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,465,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

" His enthusiasm is contagious.... Mr. Essinger explains convincingly why our verb inflections are as simple as they are and why our nouns have no grammatical gender." -- "Wall Street Journal"

"His enthusiasm is contagious.... Mr. Essinger explains convincingly why our verb inflections are as simple as they are and why our nouns have no grammatical gender."--"Wall Street Journal"

About the Author

James Essinger is an Oxford graduate who has published more than thirty books. He is particularly interested in the history of ideas that have had a practical impact on the modern world. His previous writings and his time spent teaching English abroad leave him exceptionally well qualified in the linguistic field.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Spellbound" is a very interesting read indeed. For lovers of the English language and its history, you will be intrigued. The focus is, of course, on its quirky and inconsistent spelling, explaining why. The book is easy to read, not technical or condescending. It is chatty and humorous at times.

The waves of influence creating modern English are discussed, namely the founders of English (the Anglo-Saxons themselves), the Vikings, the Norman Invaders of 1066 and later medieval Latinists. They all left their footprint on our words and how we spell.

A fascinating story of our language via its spelling.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x89437678) out of 5 stars 12 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89452cb4) out of 5 stars Superficial 24 Aug. 2007
By Glitzer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In my opinion, this book cannot compete with more careful and serious works on the same subject. If you are interested in this topic, my recommendation would be to read Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World or Speak: A Short History of Languages. You can (and in fact should) then safely skip this one.

My overall impression is that Essinger (not a scholar and not an expert on the subject) hastily read a few popular books on the subject and then added his own effort. A first piece of evidence is the bibliography, which is amazingly short and contains very few serious works. More to the point, throughout the book Essinger has the annoying habit of using his prejudices and his extremely vivid imagination to fill gaps in our historical knowledge. The results are usually absurd.

Some examples: The Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain are "smelly." (That seems to change later with Alfred the Great, when the Anglo-Saxons become the good guys and their body odor no longer merits Essinger's attention.)
The Norman conquerors, on the other hand, get a more sympathetic treatment right away: they were not oppressors (Essinger writes). This point is forcefully driven home a few paragraphs later by pointing out that they disowned and/or killed the local aristocracy.

While serious scholars are puzzled by the fact that the Germanic conquerors kept their language in Britain but nowhere else in the Roman empire, Essinger knows the answer: continental Celts and Romans had nowhere to hide, so they decided to teach the Germans Latin, while their British counterparts ran away (or were killed, Essinger isn't very clear here and generally cares little about consistency).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89452d14) out of 5 stars English language spelling is charming? Absolutely! 22 Jun. 2007
By JulieM - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The English language, in particular its spelling, is a strange and wonderful beast. Essinger gets to the heart of it in Spellbound. There are many facts that won't be a surprise to most reading the book, such as much of the language being influenced by the mix of Anglo-Saxon with Norman French or the borrowing of words from other cultures as they are encountered. It's the information beyond the facts, which have obviously been well-researched, that gives the book its flavor.

Yes, it is a book about spelling, and if anything ever was a bane of school children, it could be that. Essinger approaches it with a delight and joy that is contagious. As I read the book, there were points in it where I literally laughed out loud because of the wit and humor in the pages. At other times, I felt awe and wonder that the English language ever came to be. Something that many people think is a dry subject comes alive in the book. As the author writes in the Introduction, it becomes magical.

The book achieves what the author wanted to do in making something accessible to the general public, not just academics. It is neither pompous or boring. Instead, it's interesting and fun. In short... very highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89afafa8) out of 5 stars Superficial but Popularly Written Study of a Scholarly Topic 20 Jun. 2009
By M. Layton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Essinger has given a serious linguistic subject a popular treatment that is in many ways quite superficial. While he can do no great harm with the book and may actually help some to become better spellers, he has made several glaring errors as well. For example, he says that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were speakers of Old High German when, in fact, they spoke a Low German language, just as the people of that region of Germany and Denmark from which they came still do in their local dialects. Essinger also oversimplifies Modern English as a Creole of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon to explain why inflection has largely been lost from Modern English. While that may be partly true, it is also true that English underwent sound shifts other than the Great Vowel Shift to which this inflection loss can also be attributed. If you know nothing about the subject, you may enjoy this book. Serious students of English language history need not bother.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x89ad5be8) out of 5 stars Highly informative and entertaining! 11 May 2007
By Andrew - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this splendid book, James Essinger tells the fascinating story of the evolution of English Language and spelling.

Over the course of around 250 pages the reader is treated to an educational journey encompassing a variety of topics including early writing forms such as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, different forms of alphabets (with particular reference to our own), the historical roots of the English language, with emphasis on pivotal events such as the Normandy invasion of 1066, the development of the first dictionaries, and lots more. He even finishes up by discussing modern-day phenomena such as mobile phone text-messaging, which has arguably become a language of its own, barely recognisible from plain written English.

Essinger's writing style is lucid and highly readable. The book contains a wealth of information, without ever becoming dry or tedious. I have no hesitation in awarding it the full five stars.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8945f1f8) out of 5 stars A BOOK OF MAGIC 30 May 2007
By Paul Gelman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
THIS BOOK CAN BE CONSIDERED A GEM FULL OF CHARM AND MAGIC.WRITTEN FOR THE GENERAL READER- BUT ALSO FOR THE SPECIALIST-IT IS A SHORT BUT PRETTY PROFOUND SURVEY ABOUT ONE OF THE GREATEST ABSURDS WHICH EXIST NOWADAYS:THE TOTALLY- IRRATIONAL WAY THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS SPELLED.

AS A TEACHER OF ENGLISH, I AM ALMOST CONSTANTLY FACED WITH THE (LEGITIMATE) QUESTION POSED BY MY STUDENTS ABOUT THIS INTRIGUING ASPECT OF THIS LANGUAGE.AND THIS BOOK GIVES YOU VERY SHORT AND PRECISE ANSWERS .THE BOOK IS DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTS .THE FIRST TWO ARE INTRODUCTORY, AND THE THIRD SECTION DEPICTS THE REASONS FOR THE SCANDALOUS WAY ENGLISH WORDS ARE SPELLED.I INDEED AGREE WITH THE AUTHOR'S CLAIM THAT A REFORM IN THE SPELLING WOULD BE A FUTILE ATTEMPT.HE ARGUES THAT WHOLE CULTURAL CHUNKS WOULD BE LEFT OUT AND FORGOTTEN.

CHAUCER, SHAKESPEARE,CAWDREY( WHO IS CONSIDERED THE FIRST ONE TO WRITE AN ENGLISH DICTIONARY),JOHNSON, WEBSTER- YOU WILL FIND OUT IN WHAT WAY THEY ARE RELATED TO THIS MOST FASCINATING SUBJECT.YOU WILL ENJOY THIS LIVELY, DYNAMICALLY WRITTEN BOOK AND YOU WILL- I AM CONFIDENT- BE SPELLBOUND BY IT.
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