Origins of English

Here is a bibliography.  The page number citations will have to wait a bit as I will be on the road for a while.  But I’ll keep this post and get back to it later in the summer [N.B. I am lousy at getting to this stuff, so remind me].

A general treatment of English, incl its history, is the ubiquitous David Crystal’s The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.

An easy read but not too informative is an Arizona State University professor’s The Roots of Modern English.  He was an avuncular and scholarly type and he writes like that.

At the opposite end is Barbara Strang’s wonderful The History of English but very hard going even if you have a background in both linguistics and historical English linguistics?not something you plow through, quite the contrary, it’s exciting reading, but she assumes a great deal of knowledge about language change processes and varieites of English.

And, the greatest of all, Otto Jespersen’s 7 volume A Modern English Grammar.  The subtitle clues you in on the historical element: “Based on Historical Principles?.

An early and oft-cited work, quite accessible to the average educated person is Thomas Pyles? Origins and Development of the English Language.  Not entertaining but matters are laid out well, esp the development of the various verb classes in English, so important for understanding usage like “he clumb the tree? and “he holp me with work? and “they was ??

At this point I should say that all the above works except the Cambridge Encyclopedia are out of print.  Some, like Strang and Jespersen, can be very expensive to purchase from OP bookdealers but can be found on-line.  A university library would be a better bet.

The following are at least more readily available if not in-print:

I like A Living Language: The History and Development of English by Bolton.  It is a major work and often cited, and I particulary like his treatment of the gerund/participle -ing pronounced -in (the lack of apostrophe after -in will be explained in the book), but THE major work most often cited is:

Bough & Cable, A History of the English Language.

One I find useful but perhaps OP is The Development of Modern English by Robertson and Cassidy.  The late Cassidy was a Jamaican who headed the famous DARE (Dictionary of American Regional English) and can be seen on the video American Tongues [a nice tribute to him can be found by googling his name, Frederic G. Cassidy?and he would?ve loved the verb “google?].

Specialty areas for those interested but deserving of their own bibiography are:

the place of English among the West Germanic languages is well served by Old English and Its Closest Relatives by Robinson.

A favored and popular trashing of grammatical “correctness? is the reporter James Quinn’s America Tongue And Cheek.

Lots of texts are found in Williams? Origins of the English Language.

I hope this list serves to spark someon’s interest in perusing at least one of these books.  So much of the cant and self-righteousness associated with discussions of usage can be at least toned down by some actual knowledge about our language.

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