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Book Review
Cambridge Encyclopedia of English Language cover

Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
by David Crystal

(CUP 2nd edition)

Review by Seamus O'Muircheartaigh

The Cambridge Encyclopedia Of The English Language by David Crystal is a fascinating reference work and a superb commentary on the history, structure and use of English across the world. This attractive resource is organised in six main broad topics:

• Part one brings us through the history of the language, taking us from its earliest origins to the consolidation of English as a world language.

• Part two ponders how big the lexicon of English is, where its vastness comes from and introduces the notion of a lexeme. There is a detailed study of the history of placenames, first names, surnames, nicknames etc. Vogue words, slogans, jargon, taboo words, slang, clichés and graffiti are also considered.

• Part three focuses on grammar. It begins with a historical perspective, charting the changing beliefs, attitudes and approaches to grammar as well as a consideration of current trends. This section also systematically presents the main areas of English grammar. It looks at morphology, word classes, sentence structure etc., using a wide variety of both spoken and written sources.

• Part four deals with spoken and written English. It works systematically through the sound system, describing vowels, consonants, syllables, connected speech, intonation etc. It takes a similar approach with writing, looking at the history of each letter of the alphabet. It discusses the reasons for the complexity of spelling and concludes with a close look at the history and use of punctuation.

• Part five travels the English speaking world from Canada to the Caribbean and from New York to New Zealand. Not only are these regional variations explained, but differing social variations are also given importance. Gender is looked at, as well as English in religion, science, law, politics, broadcasting , advertising, humour etc. This part ends with a newly included section on how English is changing with the arrival of the technological revolution.

• Part six covers mainly how children acquire English as a first language and touches on new ways to study English

The principal advantage of this reference work is that the material is meant for quick reference and to be easily accessible. Nearly every individual subject is treated without having to turn a page. The book is organised around a series of double-page spreads and although it contains a vast amount of information, it doesn’t overload. It allows the reader to dip into the book at any point and find a well written summary of the main issues concerning each of the topics. It is a browser's dream, at the same time scholarly and entertaining , attractive for the lay reader as well as for the specialist.

The encyclopedia is superbly illustrated in colour throughout and this revised edition contains extensive new material, a complete updating of statistics, new photographs, further reading suggestions and a host of other references. It is jam packed with charts, illustrations, reprints of pages from historically significant works, maps, advertisements, cartoons, quotations, poems, anecdotes and photographs, all of which help to bring to life even the driest subject matter to life. The appendices include a glossary, a list of symbols and abbreviations, references and addresses, further readings, and indexes of names, items, and topics.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia Of The English Language is an invaluable book for teachers, students, and language lovers alike. It's a book you won’t want to shelf away, you’ll find it cropping up again and again at the top of the pile on your desk. It never ends, like a favourite place you always want to go back to or a favourite song you want to listen to again and again.

Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language cover

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