"The English Language surrounds us like a sea, and like the water of the deep it is full of mysteries"
This book is a companion to the 5-part PBS television documentary series of the same name. It was written by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil and published in 1986, with a later edition published in 1993. The subject of both the book and the documentary series was to cover the "whole story" of the English language. The result was a fascinating work of literary history and analysis begining with Beowulf going through Shakespear, James Joyce, and Mark Twain.
It also produced a rather simplified but still accurate and engaging linguistic account of the development of Old English, Middle English, Modern English as well as Scottish, Irish and American English, African American, Caribbean, Australian, and Indian English, as well as an analysis of African languages (see Krio) that are believed to have been influenced by English and finally predictions for where the language was going. The Authors went to some lengths to include every corner of the English speaking world. This is an extremely difficult thing to do because of the many different uses English has in the world today, but it appears that they managed to cover everything. Their literary/Linguistic interpretation of various 'great works' of the language helped deepen the reader's understanding not only of the work itself but also of the particular form of English being spoken. I checked out a couple things at the 'recomendation' of the authors, and even used the book for help with one.
While they did include English from all over the world, they focused only on literary works that are already part of the established British or American canons. I don't pretend to be an expert on African American literature, but I thought it wouldn't have hurt to include some more detail about Langston Hughes instead of bothering with Uncle Remus, and I'm sure there are better poets in the Caribbean than Bob Marley even if his birthday is a national holiday in Jamacia. It was interesting to read about the development of these languages, and it is possible to argue that an explanation of their development would be more interesting and accessible to the reader. Just the same I think that an analysis of one of the great works written in that form of English would be extremely useful in conveying the sense of the language (that was what the explanation of Finnegan's Wake did for the chapter on Irish English for example).
I first read this book while living in Germany in exile from my native tongue. It strengthened my interest in English language literature and in scholarship in general. It's worth reading to anyone interested in language, English literature, history, or the politics of language, or anything else.