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The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language: Book Review

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The first edition of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language by linguist David Crystal was published in 1995. Since then it has become a publishing phenomenon, popular with language-lovers, writers, students, and teachers. The recently published second edition has been completely updated, supplemented with extensive new material on world English and Internet English, and a total of 44 new illustrations have been added too.

It is difficult to know where to start in reviewing a book of this magnitude; in a short summary it is impossible to do justice to its vast content of thoroughly researched, impeccably presented, and well-organised material. It is a huge volume, some 500 large-format pages, presented in a textbook style. The content of every page is illustrated in full colour with appropriate photographs, tables, charts, maps, graphs, and diagrams, making the book easy to read even for teenagers.

In the opening chapter, Crystal asks "Why study the English language?" He gives many reasons: because it's fascinating, it's important, it's fun, it's beautiful, it's useful, and simply because it's there. The reader is drawn in by the topics so much so that he or she will not need any other motive.

Crystal covers everything from the history of English, vocabulary, and grammar, to spoken and written English, and English in use. The volume comprises 25 chapters: Modelling English, The origins of English, Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, Modern English, World English, The nature of the lexicon, The sources of the lexicon, Etymology, The structure of the lexicon, Lexical dimensions, Grammatical mythology, The structure of words, Word classes, The structure of sentences, The sound system, The writing system, Varieties of discourse, Regional variation, Social variation, Personal variation, Electronic variation, Learning English as a mother tongue, and New ways of studying English.

The appendices provide a wealth of information for anyone planning to take their research further. In addition to a comprehensive glossary, Crystal provides the reader with full references and suggestions for further reading. The book is helpfully indexed not only by topic, but also by authors and personalities, and by linguistic items too.

This volume will appeal to almost anyone with either a professional or recreational interest in language, words, linguistics, and related areas. The plentiful visual aids combine with anecdotes, quotations, and well written text to produce a highly accessible and truly stimulating textbook. There is simply not a bad word to be said about it.

This is an outstanding work on the English Language surpassing even the high standards of accuracy, comprehensiveness, and presentation of reference works that have come to be associate with David Crystal's name, both as author and editor. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language will surely remain the definitive text in the field for some time to come.

Praise for The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language (First Edition):

"Contains a monstrous amount of information on a fascinating topic arranged in a clear, concise, and, above all, entertaining manner - a dangerous combination indeed, and one that can only lead to uncontrollable reading binges lasting hours or perhaps days."
Quill and Quire

"You can open it to any page and be enthralled."
Indianapolis News

"I have been unable to think of a question this book cannot answer... I will risk predicting that Professor Crystal will not be superseded much before the message sent into space on Voyager I... receives an answer."
The Times Literary Supplement

"A superb work that manages to be both scholarly and vastly entertaining... This is a deeply impressive book, for it packs between two covers virtually everything any normal person might care to know about English."
The Washington Post Book World

"Offers a wealth of enlightening entertainment. You can't turn a page without learning some fascinating tidbit about our common tongue."
Houston Chronicle

"A delight and a treasure... David Crystal does a brilliant job of satisfying our curiosity about our mother tongue while illuminating the deepest questions of who we are and where we come from. A magnificent achievement."
Steven Pinker (Professor of Linguistics, MIT and Harvard)

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