Sunday, June 11, 2006

Books on the history and use of English

David Crystal, the author of How Language Works (forthcoming), recently named his favorite books on the history and use of English.

Number 1:

The Oxford English Dictionary (1884).

If I were ever asked which book to take to a desert island, I would opt immediately for the second edition of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (1989)--and hope that the island had an electricity supply so that I could download the online version or use the CD. The OED is without a doubt the most comprehensive account of the history of English vocabulary ever compiled. It has gaps and biases, of course--for example, the original editors went through Shakespeare with a tooth-comb, at the expense of some of the other Elizabethan dramatists--but it is still the source I turn to most often whenever I am working on the development of the language. Its process of continual editorial revision provides a voyage of linguistic discovery that, I am happy to say, never comes to an end.

To read Crystal's other selections, click here.

Click here to see a list of the top ten books about the OED.

--Marshal Zeringue