By Tarun Patel
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
From Library Journal
Crystal, an author, lecturer, and BBC broadcaster on language, here approaches English with the same combination of scholarly seriousness and inviting visual presentation that made his Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (LJ 5/1/88) so successful. This large, lively, and lavishly illustrated volume is divided into six broad topics that cover the English language’s history, vocabulary, grammar, writing and speech systems, usage, and acquisition. Within these major topics, the book is divided into logical subtopics and finally into the basic unit of the text-the two-page spread. Nearly every individual subject is treated without turning a page, and how these pages are packed! The clear and spirited text is stunning, enhanced with over 500 illustrations, making this a particularly rich reference work and a browser’s dream. The history part consists of chronological chapters that trace the language’s development. It offers a fascinating treatment of the growth of English during Shakespeare’s time as well as its adaptation to the needs of international trade and late 20th-century technology. Crystal is attuned to the diversity of English usage around the world, providing a variety of wide-ranging quotations, photographs, newspaper clippings, poems, ads, and cartoons. The text treats controversial topics such as black English, word and place origins, regional English, dialect, the U.S. movement to make English the official language, politically correct language, and the future. The book’s layout, three indexes, and glossary will make it useful both at the reference desk and in the circulating collection. Crystal has created an attractive and readable work for the lay reader as well as the specialist. For most academic, public, and school libraries.
Paul D’Alessandro, Portland P.L., Me.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This attractive resource is organized thematically in segments covering the history of the English language (Old English, Middle English, Modern English, English in different parts of the world); English vocabulary (its nature, structure, sources, etymology, and the dimensions of the lexicon); English grammar (structure of words and sentences, definitions of the main branches of grammar); spoken and written English; English usage (varieties of discourse and regional, social, and personal usage variations); and how people learn English and new ways to study English. Appendixes include a glossary, a list of symbols and abbreviations, references and addresses, further readings, and indexes of names, items, and topics. Crystal, a linguist, is the compiler of many reference books published by Cambridge, for example, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1987).
Throughout the book (which focuses on British English, not American English), readers will find liberal use of color in the many charts, illustrations, reprints of pages from historically significant works, maps, and photographs. The author does not shrink from exploring and delivering opinions on controversial topics such as the “opaque inspecific, or empty” language of politics and the dangers of “political correctness.”
Each segment can be read as if it were the only section of the book, or, the work can be read cover to cover so that a cumulative effect is achieved. The only comparable resource that provides the same type of broad-ranging coverage in one volume is The Oxford Companion to the English Language [RBB O 15 92]. That work is arranged alphabetically within 22 themes (e.g., geography, history, media) and provides “an interim report on the nature and use of the English language” in all nations that speak English. The two works complement each other; Cambridge provides historical perspective and Oxford a snapshot of current English. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language lives up to the reputation of other resources published under the Cambridge imprint and will make an excellent addition to the collections of large public libraries and all academic libraries.
“Adelie” (Grass Valley, CA, USA)
This is essentially a “twofer” review – everything I say about this book also applies to Crystal’s “Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.”
I fell in love with language long ago, so pounced on this book when it first appeared on my horizon several years ago. Since then, I have learned to keep it close by – it migrates from the coffee table to my night table to the bathroom to the breakfast table – I need it handy. I refer to it constantly, and often find myself opening it at random and immediately being hooked by whatever subject comes up.
It’s a tremendous compendium of easily accessible information on all aspects of the English language, and there are nuggets of value throughout. It is well-written in a lively, non-pedantic style, and has plenty of illustrations to reinforce understanding and make it more interesting. It’s appropriate for most ages except very young children, and is a terrific way to introduce anyone to the wonders and mysteries of our language.
The same remarks hold true for Crystal’s “Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.” That work is presented in the same way, but with much a broader scope – it covers all aspects of human language. I like to browse in it and then get greater detail from the English Language book – they work very well together.
I’m in awe of Crystal’s ability to present such huge subjects so coherently and in such a comprehensive and fascinating way.
I strongly recommend both books, for you or for anyone you care about.
M. Rittman (PA)
Crystal’s _The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language_ is not really the type of book I would use for reference. There are much more appropriate books when I want to learn about the proper use of a gerund. This is, however, an absolutely fascinating and addictive book! It is the type of book I pick up to read and get so involved I lose track of time. It is also a beautiful book. The color, illustrations, and publishing quality are magnificent!
The focus of this book is not American English. The flavor is cosmopolitan. Questions are answered like how the variations of English in New Zealand and the Caribbean affect road signs. If you ever wanted to know how morphological, lexical, syntactic, and discourse humor compare and contrast, this book is for you. This encyclopedia also features a brilliantly edited collection of poems interspersed in the pages. _The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language_ will remain one of my favorite books.
Chris Crawford (Oregon USA)
David Crystal impresses me with his combination of elegant erudition, intellectual open-mindedness, and conciseness. In writing this book, he imposed a harsh constraint upon his writing: every topic had to fit into a two-page spread. The result is insidiously like potato chips: it’s such an easy read, you can’t help but reading “just one more spread”.
The breadth of knowledge that he brings to bear on the subject is astounding; his bibiography reads like a catalog of Western intellectual history. Time and again, I found myself marking a point with a note to delve into the matter more deeply.
Intellectual integrity is another impressive component of his writing. He cheerfully acknowledges difficult issues and treats linguistic variation with respect, yet never descends into cover-your-ass academic frippery. The effect is to provoke deeper contemplation in the mind of the reader; language truly is endlessly complex!
A confession is in order here: I did find the last few score pages rather tedious. Perhaps it was merely the fatigue arising from my breathless rush through the first 400 pages; more likely the subject matter does not suit my tastes. But in a grand parade of ideas of this size, I cannot complain if a few floats or marching bands fail to excite me; there’s more than enough here to keep anybody dazzled.
The greatest tribute to this book that I can offer is the revelation that I have been too reluctant to shelve this book in my library; it remains on my desk, bedstand, or next to the computer, ready for a quick re-read of some random topic.
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