Monday, August 12, 2013

Spell It Out: the Curious, Enthralling, and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling by David Crystal

OK, this book is not for everyone.  But since this is a blog devoted to the written word, it's worthwhile to include it.  Crystal is an expert on linguistics, and Spell It Out is his endeavor to help the reader understand the field of orthography (spelling).  As you might expect, English spelling has been influenced by major events over the centuries.  These include the Norman Conquest in 1066 that brought many French and Latin words into use, the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th - 17th centuries, and the rise of the printing press.  Through it all, one group of people exerted a strong influence--The Scribes.  They were the ones who eliminated some Old English letters (Eth, Thorn and Yogh) and added new letters (J and W) to the language.  Crystal examines numerous categories of words to show how they arrived at their current spellings.  Although his efforts may not help readers remember how to spell them, they will at least understand why they must spell them that way.  Crystal also touches on the future of spelling.  He posits that the Internet and mobile devices actually improve spelling, because users have to know the spelling of terms to search for them online or to abbreviate them correctly.  The only difficulty I had with the book is that Crystal is British, and some of his examples are foreign to those of us "across the pond."  Overall this is a fascinating read for those with an interest in linguistic history.


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