David Crystal's rich, useful and fascinating survey of English spelling will change the way you think about language. Crystal shows us that language is not a fixed system created by scholars, but is constantly being shaped and reshaped by individual pens and voices – monks, scribes, speakers of regional dialects, printers, and even Twitter users.
Crystal shows why English spelling can be so confusing and how it got that way: "[the] origins of spelling difficulties in English lie in the fact that there are far more sounds in the language than there are letters." After a brief and illuminating section on alphabet origins, Crystal explains how scribes first used the Latin alphabet to record the sounds of Old English, a runic, Germanic, inflected language that had sounds that didn't exist in Latin: the short "a" sound in "man," for which scribes created the "ae
Beyond the Book
David Crystal is a prolific scholar of linguistics who specializes in language pathology, phonetics, and linguistic disability.
What I admire most about Crystal's scholarship in Spell It Out
is its humanity. He never loses sight of language as a form of human expression—whether through orthography or pronunciation.
Consider for example, the history of the word, "ghost":
"Why is there an h here? And in ghastly, aghast and the whole family of related words –– ghostly, ghostliness, ghastliness, ghostbusters and so on? It wasn't there when the word first came into English. In Anglo-Saxon England we find it used in the form gast, with a long 'ah' vowel...But there was no h in the Anglo-Saxon spelling: the Holy Ghost was...