Bibliography on History of English

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


>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


>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


>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


>It is a major work and often cited, and I particulary like his treatment


>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


>DARE (Dictionary of American Regional English) and can be seen on the


>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



>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


>James Quinn’s America TongueAnd 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


>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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