The Stories of English

David Crystal

Afterword by the author

A new Folio Society edition of eminent linguist David Crystal’s commanding history shows how English turned into a rich, diverse global language, spoken by well over two billion people.

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The Stories of English

This is a book about the real stories of English, which have never, in their entirety, been told.

How did a language spoken by a few thousand Anglo Saxons grow into one used by more than two billion people across the world? In this landmark work, one of the world’s foremost linguists puts forward a convincing answer. Authoritative and always entertaining, The Stories of English traces the history of a language of amazing richness and variety.

The new Folio edition brings the story right up to date: a new afterword by the author deals with the impact of digital technology and social media on our ever-evolving language, and the edition includes an exclusive bookmark with a key to the phonetic symbols used in the text. The book is elegantly presented, with a distinctive cover design by Alan Kitching – one of Britain’s most distinguished typographic designers.

Production Details

Bound in screen-printed and blocked cloth with a design by Alan Kitching

Set in Athelas

736 pages

11 black & white integrated illustrations, 12 black & white maps


Plain slipcase

10˝ x 6¾˝

Tales of a global tongue

There is an energy in the language – in any language – which derives from its diversity, and this is something which needs to be recognised and celebrated.

The Stories of English is more than just a learned and authoritative account of more than 1,500 years of language change. David Crystal’s enthusiasm, breadth of knowledge and ear for linguistic eccentricities make for a wonderfully compelling read.

Crystal explores the global language in all its diversity, from Elizabethan beggars’ cant to the dialects of the Deep South and Caribbean creoles. Its digressions include the disappearance of ‘thou’ in Britain and emergence of ‘y’all’ in the States, the unique dialect of the Bounty mutineers on remote Pitcairn Island, and the evolution of new Englishes on the internet. He explodes some myths – how many words did Shakespeare really invent? – and makes an impassioned case for tolerance, presenting dialects and international varieties as the peers of Standard English, not its inferiors.

A never-ending evolution

‘The range of new varieties introduced by digital technology has no parallel in the history of English, and most of it has come into being since this book was first published.’

  1. From the 2020 afterword

David Crystal was closely involved in the Folio edition of The Stories of English. As his incisive new afterword makes clear, the stories of our language never stop being written and rewritten. Crystal considers the impact of the technology that has appeared since the book’s first publication in 2004, from the wide availability of machine translation to the significance of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, each of which ‘has its own distinctive stylistic identity’. With the global number of speakers now approaching 2.5 billion, he shows how new varieties and sub-varieties of English are continuing to follow their own linguistic paths.

About David Crystal

David Crystal is a writer, lecturer, editor and broadcaster, and is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Bangor. He read English at University College London and carried out research on the Survey of English Usage before taking up lectureships at the universities of Bangor and Reading, where he became professor of linguistic science. He has published over a hundred books on aspects of language, including his two large-scale reference works, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, both now in their third editions, and created the online resources at (co-authored with his actor/producer son Ben) and, along with his own website He became a member of the British Academy in 2001 and received an OBE for services to the English language in 1995.


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