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Paperback The Story of English Book

ISBN: 0571149081

ISBN13: 9780571149087

The Story of English

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. Now revised, The Story of English is the first book to tell the whole story of the English language. Originally paired with a major PBS miniseries, this book presents a stimulating and comprehensive...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Many rivers lead to the sea...

Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked of English that it is 'the sea which receives tributaries from every region under heaven.' The English language is certainly a sea of words and constructs which has been fed into by almost every major language and ethnic tradition in the world. English began as a hodge-podge of languages, never pretending to the 'purity' of more continental or extra-European languages (which, by the by, were never quite as pure as they like to assume).The book `The Story of English', as a companion piece to accompany the PBS-produced series of the same name, hosted by Robert MacNeil, late of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, is an articulate, engaging, wide-ranging and fair exposition of an ordinarily difficult and dry subject. The study of English is difficult on several levels. 'Until the invention of the gramophone and the tape-recorder there was no reliable way of examining everyday speech.' What did English sound like 200 years ago, or 400 years ago? 'English is--and has always been--in a state of ungovernable change, and the limits of scholarship are demonstrated by phrases like the famous 'Great Vowel Shift', hardly more informative than the 'unknown land' of early cartography.'Of course, written language has until modern times been the limited and limiting commodity of a very small minority of people. The balance between the written and spoken language has a variable history, which can still be seen today (compare the writing of the New York Times against the speech patterns and vocabulary choices of any dozen persons you will find on the street in New York City, and this divergence will be readily apparent). English has many varieties, and this book explores many of them, explaining that the writings and speech-patterns we see and hear as being foreign are actually English variants with a pedigree as strong as any Oxford University Press book would carry. From the Scots language which migrated to the Appalachian mountains to the Aussie languages adapted to Pacific Islands, to the ever-changing barrow speech of inner London, English speakers have a wide variety of possibilities that no one is truly master of all the language. `If our approach seems more journalistic than scholastic, we felt this was appropriate for a subject that, unlike many academic studies, is both popular and newsworthy. Hardly a week goes by without a news story, often on the front page, devoted to some aspect of English: the 'decline' of standards; the perils and hilarities of Franglais or Japlish; the adoption of English as a 'national' language by another Third World county.'English is, for international trade and commerce, for travel, for science and most areas of major scholarship, and many other groupings, the language not only of preference, but of required discourse. In trying to find the length and breadth of English infusion into the world, past and present, MacNeil and primary authors Robert McCrum and William Cran have produced an engaging his

Refreshing lack of triumphalism

I read this book back in my 'English Conversation Teacher' days in Japan. Having been embrassed one to many times by students having to lecture me, their teacher, on the history of English, I figured I should do some 'catch-up reading.' I asked around for suggestions and was recommended 'The Story of English'.It is free of the linguistic jargon most general readers would find pedantic, and although it is aimed at the general reader it is never condescending. The first half of the book explains the historical development of English while the second half focues on modern English. Most refreshing though, is that it is free of the triumphalism found in many books of this kind. Reflecting the demographic reality of English today, it gives even-handed attention to the many contemporary varieties of English spoken around the world in places such as North America, Singapore, India, the Anglophone West Indies, and so on.'The Story of English' is best suited to those who are curious about the origins as well as the future of English, and who want an easy-to-understand introduction to the subject.

The Story of English

I first discovered this book at a local library's used-book sale. I found it fascinating and informative. As an elementary schoolteacher, I have used portions of it for reference and lessons. In this nation of immigrants, anyone with even a mild interest in language will find this book highly entertaining and educational!


I bought this book on a whim, and then spent the next two days finishing it, cover to cover. It was the most engrossing non-fiction book I have ever read. Of course, it helps to have an interest in the subject matter.
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