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
>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
>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.