Spell It Out by David Crystal

Posted November 8, 2017 in Book Review / 0 Comments

Spell It Out by David CrystalSpell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling by David Crystal
Published by St. Martin's Press on June 18th 2013
Genres: Nonfiction, Linguistics
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
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With The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal took us on a tour through the history of our language. Now, with Spell It Out, he takes on the task of answering all the questions about how we spell: "Why is English spelling so difficult?" Or "Why are good spellers so proud of their achievement that when they see a misspelling they condemn the writer as sloppy, lazy, or uneducated?" In thirty-seven short, engaging and informative chapters, Crystal takes readers on a history of English spelling, starting with the Roman missionaries' sixth century introduction of the Roman alphabet and ending with where the language might be going. He looks individually at each letter in the alphabet and its origins. He considers the question of vowels and how people developed a way to tell whether or not it was long or short. He looks at influences from other cultures, and explains how English speakers understood that the "o" in "hopping" was a short vowel, rather than the long vowel of "hoping". If you've ever asked yourself questions like "Why do the words "their", "there" and "they're" sound alike, but mean very different things?" or "How can we tell the difference between "charge" the verb and "charge" the noun?" David Crystal's Spell It Out will spell it all out for you.

Main points

I must admit: I was not a super duper fan of this book. I know David Crystal is quite popular in the world of linguistic literature. But this was not the best book to start out on, it would seem. Now, don’t get me wrong, the information was very interesting—it just didn’t need to be a 300-page book. It could have been condensed down to a few chapters. I know because I took notes on it and the amount of notes I took was incommensurable with the amount of pages there were. Some of the extra content was good. There were a lot of interesting examples (and in some cases there could have been even more). But a lot of it was repetition or stuff not entirely related to the topic at hand. It was sort of a difficult read. Not because of the content matter, as you may be able to guess, but rather it didn’t manage to hold my attention very well. And yes, there were a few mistakes that somehow passed editing that I was astonished by given the subject matter. Maybe things are different in British English, and I know a good many differences but I can’t claim to know all of them—but some things I believe were just mistakes. I hesitate to call it boring, because it wasn’t entirely, but very nearly so. Not many linguistics books are written a way that makes the subject unusually interesting, so there isn’t too much of a standard to which I can hold it, but my linguistics textbook actually does a much better job. I did learn some things, of course, but for a book this long I would have expected him to go into more detail than he did. That said, I shall give his other books a try, but with expectations lowered.

  reaction upon finishing

Thank goodness that’s over.

this book in one word


About David Crystal

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 research there at the Survey of English Usage under Randolph Quirk (1962-3), then joined academic life as a lecturer in linguistics, first at Bangor, then at Reading. He published the first of his 100 or so books in 1964, and became known chiefly for his research work in English language studies, in such fields as intonation and stylistics, and in the application of linguistics to religious, educational and clinical contexts, notably in the development of a range of linguistic profiling techniques for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. He held a chair at the University of Reading for 10 years, and is now Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. These days he divides his time between work on language and work on internet applications.



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