THE STORY OF ENGLISH by Robert; William Cran & Robert MacNeil McCrum
Kirkus Star


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Philology with flair. An immensely entertaining and highly informative account of how the English language grew from the dialect of a small North German tribe about whom the Roman historian Tacitus could find ""nothing particularly noteworthy"" to the most widely-spoken tongue in the world today. In tracing this development, the authors--a TV scriptwriter, a producer and a popular reporter and anchorman--have unearthed a wealth of fascinating details about the language and its history. There are, for example, brief discussions of how Shakespeare's vocabulary reveals his Warwickshire roots, how Cockney rhyming slang was appropriated by the hippie movement of the 1960's and how Hebrew almost became America's official language. The nine segments of the work range across the face of the globe in tracking down variations on standard English. Black and Caribbean English are analyzed and the sources of the differences between them explained. Irish brogues and Scots burrs are scrutinized. Even the intricacies of ""Franglais"" and ""Japlish"" are explored. Despite the breadth of their research, the authors have organized their material into a model of clarity. The reader never finds himself confused by the shifting locales and is sped along the way by writing that is sprightly and, occasionally, laugh-provoking. One of the most intriguing segments comes near the end of the book when the authors turn their attention to the probable future developments in the language. Quoting Dr. Robert Burchfield, they point out that ""just as, with the decline of the Roman Empire, Latin broke into mutually unintelligible European languages. . .so over a period of several centuries, World English would similarly disintegrate into separate languages."" As an example of this sort of breakdown even today, the authors cite a street sign proposed by defenders of Jamaican English. It reads ""NO PAAK BITWIIN DEM SAIN YA."" North American tourists might have some difficulty translating it to ""NO PARKING BETWEEN THESE SIGNS"" but the Jamaican version does have a certain ring to it. It's just this sort of unexpected information that makes The Story of English a thoroughgoing delight. Color and black-and-white illustrations and maps (not seen).

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Viking