Let’s Read About English

As some of you will well know, I’m a Linguistics major and I love my degree. And so, it’s no surprise that some of my favourite non-fiction books include those that try to suss out the English language. Last year, I picked up three books that caught my eye…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Rating: ★★★★☆ Rating: ★★★★☆

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us by Erin Moore was my travel book. Faced with the prospect of spending several hours on trains during a trip to Scandinavia, I bought this to entertain myself.

There are so many great ways to approach the differences between British English and American English. Some are more academic, some are more comedic… I personally adore Separated by a Common Language by Lynne Murphy, who successfully combines both approaches.

For me, That’s Not English fell a little short. Erin Moore talks about her experiences as an American woman living in England, and how she feels this transition essentially forced her to learn an entirely new language. Honestly? It just felt a bit whiny to me. Sure, there are definite differences between BrE and AmE and there are certainly times when speakers of each will get tripped up by the other, but I honestly don’t think the differences are so significant that they should truly and consistently hinder a fluent speaker’s comprehension.

That being said, she does discuss a good few of the differences that are most likely catch people out. So maybe if you’re not aware of any of the differences or feel like you only a know a few, this may be a neat book to pick up.

Spell It Out by David Crystal is such a neat wee book. Seriously, you don’t even have to be obsessed with spelling (…as I’m sure so many of you are) to enjoy this. In this book, David Crystal elegantly balances history and linguistics in an attempt to suss out even the wackiest of English spellings.

That being said, we are talking about spelling. And so, naturally, there were a few moments when the content was a little dry. Though with nice additions of humour and a few fun examples throughout, such dryness never did last long, and I did find myself thoroughly enjoying this book.

It’s a great (and quite short!) read for any of you who have ever looked at an English word and thought: why the hell is it spelt like that?!

Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation by Ammon Shea was more than just a little bit hilarious. This is the book for all the people who are sick of being told that their English is wrong, even though everyone in the room knew exactly what you meant.

Certainly not a stickler for the rules, Ammon Shea illustrates why being pedantic about English and its grammar is a lost cause. English, like all languages, are fluid. Constantly evolving! What’s ungrammatical (oh, the horror!) one day is commonplace the next.

This book has the perfect balance of humour, history and linguistics. Even you’re the kind of a person who has always thought that things like grammar and pronunciation are a bit dull, I do genuinely think you’ll manage to have a few laughs with this book. 110% recommend.

And there you have it! Three books on the wonders of the English language. Next on my list is one that’s been on my shelf for a while: Q & Eh: Questions and Answers about English with a Kiwi Twist by Laurie Bauer, Dianne Bardsley, Janet Holmes and Paul Warren.

Let me know if you’ve read any exciting books about English and all its mysteries!

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