Book review: ‘Evolving English’ by David Crystal

Earlier this year, ELT Journal kindly sent me a copy of Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices, a new book by the eminent linguist and author David Crystal.

Published by the British Library, Evolving English is an illustrated history of the language, and it is a fine and fascinating work. My review has now been published and is available online. Here’s an excerpt:

The relationship between language and culture is a theme that runs throughout Evolving English. As its subtitle One Language, Many Voices indicates, the emphasis is on the great variety of English. . . . Everyone who speaks or writes does so in a unique idiolect. Our language overlaps with the shapes it assumes in the particular circles and cultures we move in, but English would not have become a global lingua franca were it not flexible enough to accommodate so much regional variation. (I find Irish English a particular joy, but again I could be biased!)

Crystal’s book celebrates this diversity and the infinite ways it gives life to language. . . . [It] offers not just a snapshot of English as we know it but a panoply of snapshots throughout history, some familiar, some obscure. It presents them in the context of their times and cultures and shows skilfully and entertainingly how they bring to bear on the language we revel in today.

You can read the full review at ELT Journal. At about 2000 words it is quite detailed – but it will, I hope, appeal to anyone with an interest in language and the history and evolution of English.

A note on the publisher: ELT Journal, originally named English Language Teaching, has been in continual publication since 1946 and gave its name to the field of study often called ELT. The website has a large archive of articles, but – my review excepted – you’ll need to subscribe or pay to read more than an extract or abstract.

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8 Responses to Book review: ‘Evolving English’ by David Crystal

  1. Thanks Stan I will put this on the reading list

  2. Stan says:

    Well worth a look, Jams. It’s a good sign when my main problem with a book is that it’s not longer.

  3. Marc Leavitt says:

    I justy finished “Begat,” and David Crystal’s Cambridge encyclopedia sits on my coffee table. He’s a marvelous voice of reason, combining vast erudition with the too-rare ability to bring a complicated subject to a wide audience. Long may he write!

  4. Stan says:

    Hear hear, Marc. I’ve read only a few of Crystal’s books, but I’ve enjoyed each very much and I look forward to reading more. Begat sounds interesting, and I have the honour of a credit at the end of his forthcoming The Story of English in 100 Words. He is, as you say, a voice of reason, and does a tremendous service to the study of language.

  5. [...] discussed slang and innovation in language. Meanwhile, word worlds collided with Mr. Carey’s review of Mr. Crystal’s book, Evolving English, “an illustrated history of the [...]

  6. Fran says:

    Fabulous book – I bought it with vouchers someone gave me. The pictures and facsimiles are amazing. Crystal is my hero.

  7. Stan says:

    It is a beautiful book, Fran. I regret that I didn’t see the British Library’s Evolving English exhibition, but the book was some consolation.

  8. [...] is to offer a broad view that identifies general themes and trends (as in the same author’s Evolving English), while another method is to pick particular words and phrases and detail their idiosyncratic [...]

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