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Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling [Kindle Edition]

David Crystal

Kindle-Preis: EUR 13,81 Inkl. MwSt. und kostenloser drahtloser Lieferung über Amazon Whispernet

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Praise for The Story of English in 100 Words:
“The best word book to come down the pike in many a moon . . . An ingenious idea, and only David Crystal could have pulled it off." —Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, authors of Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language and bloggers at

“Brisk [and] exuberant . . . Crystal delights in exposing all the many wacky ways we English speakers make new words.” —San Francisco Chronicle


The fascinating and surprising history of English spelling from David Crystal, everyone's favorite expert logophile

With The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal took us on a tour through the history of our language. Now, with Spell It Out, he takes on the task of answering all the questions about how we spell: "Why is English spelling so difficult?" Or "Why are good spellers so proud of their achievement that when they see a misspelling they condemn the writer as sloppy, lazy, or uneducated?" In thirty-seven short, engaging and informative chapters, Crystal takes readers on a history of English spelling, starting with the Roman missionaries’ sixth century introduction of the Roman alphabet and ending with where the language might be going. He looks individually at each letter in the alphabet and its origins. He considers the question of vowels and how people developed a way to tell whether or not it was long or short. He looks at influences from other cultures, and explains how English speakers understood that the “o” in “hopping” was a short vowel, rather than the long vowel of “hoping”. If you’ve ever asked yourself questions like “Why do the words “their”, “there” and “they’re” sound alike, but mean very different things?” or “How can we tell the difference between “charge” the verb and “charge” the noun?” David Crystal’s Spell It Out will spell it all out for you.


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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.5 von 5 Sternen  25 Rezensionen
23 von 23 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen Fascinating subject but the discussion lacks focus 6. September 2013
Von Sandie Barrie Blackley - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
If you are reading this you are probably a word nerd. (Only word nerds are likely to find the subject of English spelling "enthralling"!) Some of Crystal's stories of how English spelling patterns evolved are fascinating. Crystal says he wrote this book as a bridge between English orthography's now "solid academic linguistic foundation" and the curiosity of the public about why words are spelled as they are--- and especially for teachers who need a "new pedagogy" based on explanations based on "sound linguistic principles". The reason I didn't give Spell It Out five stars is that, while the snippets and examples are indeed "curious, enthralling and extraordinary", Crystal doesn't really weave them in to any kind of coherent "story". His message is: "There a system behind the apparent irregularity", but he fails to put the system (or systems) in to any sort of clear or usable focus. The result is that the reader of Spell It Out constantly feels a little lost in the weeds.

In contrast, Richard L. Venezky's The American Way of Spelling: The Structure and Origins of American English Orthography (1999) begins with seven general principles and a metaphor: English spelling is a parade of marching bands, all playing the same music but wearing different costumes (p. 5-11). These principles serves to "frame the discussion" throughout the rest of Venezky's 343 page book, anchoring every element in every chapter.

Crystal's book does include am excellent discussion of the impact of digital media and the internet on English spelling, a discussion missing from Venezky's 1999 book.

If you want an overview of the subject of English spelling, Crystal's Spell It Out may suit you. However, if you are a serious word nerd and you really want to understand principles and systems of English (American) spelling, you are likely to find Venezky's book more useful.
19 von 23 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Tout comprendre n'est pas tout rappeler! 22. Juni 2013
Von Ralph Blumenau - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Professor Crystal shows us that there are EXPLANATIONS for the bewildering variety of English spelling, but at the end I felt like adapting a French proverb: "tout comprendre n'est pas tout rappeler", even if in the last chapter is a Teaching Appendix he gives us a few guides of how to teach and how not to teach children how to spell. He maintains that "the underlying system [of spelling] is robust and regular, BUT STRUGGLES TO BE VISIBLE THROUGH THE LAYERS OF ORTHOGRAPHIC PRACTICE ..." The second part of that sentence is only too true!

Spelling has a history, and it begins with the problems presented to Early English scribes, who were monks schooled in Latin, in using the Roman alphabet of 23 letters (no u, no w and no j) to express a range of about 37 sounds (phonemes) in Anglo-Saxon speech. They added just four letters (which the French scribes who came with the Normans would do away with: two different ones for th, the runic one for w, - which they replaced with our w in the 13th century - and æ for the vowel a as in "man"). Runes were letters of pre-Latin alphabets used before the monks arrived. Wikipedia tells me that the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet had 34 characters; but the monks rejected them (with two exceptions) because, Crystal says, they were considered to be too associated with paganism. [I would have thought it was more because monks had been brought up with Roman characters which, moreover, had international currency in the Western Christian world.]

There were some "rules" (with lots of exceptions) for these transcriptions, but they were not standard, not least because there were regional variations of pronunciation. Most of the rules were related to distinguishing between the pronunciation of short and long vowels; but when new words came into the language, especially from Latin-derived prefixes or suffixes, further exceptions were made to make these words "look" more Latin. This is just one example where the knowledge that a word relates to Latin rather than to Anglo-Saxon helps you to get to a correct spelling.

Some of the explanations of what the French scribes did - for example how gh came sometimes to be silent as in "night") and sometimes to be pronounced like f ("laugh") - positively make your head spin. They introduced the useful letter j, but some words still use g for that sound (as in "ginger"). The letter i received its dot only in the 11th century, to distinguish it in cursive handwriting from other adjacent minims (downstrokes) like m or n (as in "minim"!) Sometimes scribes distinguished between homophones (words which sound the same) or homographs (words which look the same but are pronounced differently); but sometimes, where there was little likelihood of them being confused when read in context, they did not bother. (In his appendix, Crystal lays great stress that children should be taught spelling by always seeing words not in isolation, but in context - such as "school principal", "principal boy" and "in principle", "on principle".)

Some now silent letters were once pronounced ("dumb"), and, by analogy, now figure in words that never had them to start with ("numb"). It was now also added to "debt" in he 16th century because printers knew that the word came from the Latin "debitum" - an example of a host of words in which silent letters now appeared for the same reason. The etymological origins also help us to understand why it is "scorn" (from French "escorner") but "skin" (old Norse "skinne").

Some spellings reflect the sound before the Great Vowel Shift in the 15th century, which affected the long (but not the short) vowels. The spelling of words which entered the language after the Shift reflect the sound accurately. So we have "entice" (pre-shift, when it was pronounced "entiss"), and "police" (post-shift). The Flemings who worked for Caxton inserted an h after g in words like "ghost" because it was present in the Flemish word "gheest".

Crystal shows up the inadequacies of such "rules" as "i after e except after c" ("ancient", "conscience" etc and a large number of French-influenced words like "foreign", "heir", "reign"). [Which is why, as a teacher, I had always added "when the sound is as in `key' - except for `seize'. That seems to work.]

From Samuel Johnson's time onwards we have "authoritative" guides to spelling; but these are never universally accepted. Most notably English and American authorities lay down spellings which differ; but so do "house styles" laid down by different publishing houses and newspapers. Then there are idiosyncracies in the names of towns (like Leominster) or surnames (like Featherstonehaugh, pronounced Fanshaw).

The Internet and advertising have spawned a host of new words in forms which would previously have been considered illiterate - and he argues interestingly how the Internet actually makes it users more rather than less accurate in spelling.

This review gives just a small selection from the over 2,000 words (all indexed) whose spelling Crystal discusses in this illuminating book.

See also my Amazon review of the author's "The Story of English in 100 Words".
6 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Our weird English spelling. 16. Februar 2014
Von John Fulford - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
David Crystal has the knack of explaining our language with easy clarity and some humor. He is also the top man in this field. I keep re-reading this book to learn even more about where our words come from and what happened to them over the centuries. Mr Crystal's explanations are great reading and his research is extraordinary.
I would have given the book 5 stars except for the fact that, while he gives useful tips on teaching spelling, he carefully avoids the crucial subject of 'improving' English spelling. Like most Englishmen he prefers the status quo and barely mentions Noah Webster and his logical improvements.
He also fails to mention the many other improvements to spelling that have been made in American English over the years. This is a problem with British academics who completely ignore the fact that the vast majority of English users are in North America, and that the English speaking population of Britain is now only a small fraction of all the people who use English every day all across the globe.
Despite that, it's a fine book and has an excellent word list in the index.
6 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen an extraordinary book 18. August 2013
Von chandru sharma - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
despite being a native english speaker and teaching english for over 15 years, i was amazed to learn the detailed facts and facets of so many spelling through stories. yes, to me they were like reading stories. so brilliantly written by david crystal. what an extraordinary research he would have done to get all the facts! and his style of presentation is fabulous. i loved every page of the book and i can say, unhesitatingly, i have become richer. anyone who is curious about the vagaries of english spelling should definitely possess this book.
2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Finally - our English language explained so YOU can understand it! 29. August 2013
Von LYLE RASCH - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
This book is a true gem! It is that even for kids and other who have learned to "hate language studies." There are solid and well written explanations for WHY English spelling turned out like we have it today. What a fascinating journey it took! Ancient monks were involved--and modern scholars are involved. And folks, it is truly READABLE--something that can't be said truthfully for some modern books that try to "explain why we spell and talk like we do." Thanks for carrying it--and at such an affordable price!
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