The Crystal Treasure Trove Receives Two New

The Crystal Treasure Trove Receives Two New

Gems: A Review for Conlangers of David Crystal’s
Two Most Recent Titles

Author: Don Boozer

MS Date: 29-07-2017

FL Date: 02-01-2018

FL Number: FL-00004D-00

Citation: Boozer, Don. 2017. «The Crystal Treasure Trove

Receives Two New Gems: A Review for
Conlangers of David Crystal’s Two Most
Recent Titles.» FL-00004D-00, Fiat Lingua,
. Web. 01 February

Copyright: © 2017 Don Boozer. This work is licensed

under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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The Crystal Treasure Trove Receives Two New Gems:
A Review for Conlangers of David Crystal’s Two Most Recent Titles

Don Boozer

The Story of Be: A Verb’s-Eye View of the English Language.
Oxford University Press. 2017. 978-0-19-879109-6. $19.95. Index. 191 p. David Crystal. Oxford: Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar. University Press. 2017. 978-0-19-066057-4. $24.95. Index. 281 p.

David Crystal. Oxford: Oxford


The Gift of the Gab: How Eloquence Works and

The prolific David Crystal counts among his many pursuits being an author, editor, lecturer,
and television personality. He is known for writing both accessible and entertaining books
on language such as
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of
well as in-depth scholarly works on the topic such as
Language and
. Prof. Crystal is also
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language

known for his exploration of Shakespearean language (in collaboration with his son, Ben
Crystal) including reconstructing “Original Pronunciation” in books , on-stage , and online .
In fact, Prof. Crystal has a significant presence on YouTube including lectures, interviews,
and more. Any conlanger would be well-served by delving into Crystal’s voluminous
treasure trove of work.

Txting: the gr8 db8 as






And, as of 2017, Crystal’s book-hoard has received two new valuable additions:
Be: A Verb’s-Eye View of the English Language

English Grammar

Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of

The Story of

takes an in-depth look over 172
The Story of Be: A Verb’s-Eye View of the English Language

pages (plus appendices and an index) at the English verb
in all its multifarious aspects.

Conlangers especially should devour this book for inspiration in their own languages.

Drawing illustrative examples from diverse sources like the lyrics of American rapper
, and the
Common, the text of the Lindisfarne Gospel, the cartoons and captions of

Grand Jury testimony of Pres. Bill Clinton, Crystal vividly explains the fascinating history
and deceptively complex uses of this humble verb.

An interesting device that Crystal uses to engage the reader is his idiosyncratic labels for
. For example, we learn about:
each chapter which set the stage for the various uses of

1 Yale University Press, 2016
2 Oxford University Press, 2008
3 3rd edition published in 2010 by Cambridge University Press
4 2nd edition published in 2003 by Cambridge University Press
6 With an introduction available on YouTube

, Oxford University Press, 2016
The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation



● To be or not to be: existential
● I am to resign: obligational
● My kids are all grown up: perfective
● Have you been? lavatorial
● So be it: factual
And twenty-one other




For the diachronic conlanger, Crystal includes special in-depth sections on various persons
and moods of


● The infinitive form:
● 1st person singular, present tense, indicative mood:
I am
● 1st and 3rd person singular, past tense, indicative mood:
● The present and past subjunctive:
be it noted, if I were you


I/he/she it was

These provide a deeper insight to how these various aspects of
intended). One small example from the portion looking at “1st person singular, present
tense, indicative mood:

will do to illustrate the detail provided:
I am”

came to be (no pun

“Representations of regional speech, from Middle English on, also show
forms in which the old form of the 1st person pronoun,
is attached to the verb:
). In the opening scene of Ben Jonson’s

1640), Squire Tub’s man, Basket-Hilts, is given a marked rural accent, and
uses two such forms in his first speech: ‘Ich’am no zive [sieve], Cham no
mans wife’.”

, with the vowel often dropped (
icham, ycham

(published in
The Tale of a Tub

(pronounced ‘itch’),

Crystal’s breezy, conversational writing style – with generous doses of humor – sometimes
make the reader forget the deep well of erudition and expertise from which Crystal draws.
And, although
can be a quick read, any conlanger will do well to have their
own copy to mark-up, annotate, and come back to for inspiration.

The Story of Be

This is even more true for
. Right
Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar

from the beginning, Crystal sets the stage for the wonderful discoveries to come when he
on page xi. And, yes,
lays out the parallel development of the words

he does make a nod to the spelling with and without the “u” when he ends the short section


(British English)
(American English)


There will be no spoilers in this review. For those unaware of the relation between these
two words, we’ll let Crystal reveal the secret for readersl.

is divided into over thirty sections, counting the introductions, epilogue,
Making Sense

appendix, and further readings; but everything comes back to grammar, which Crystal
defines as “the study of the way we bring words together in order to make sense.”


And this study is far-reaching in Crystal’s capable hands! The expected topics are here, of
course: parts of speech, phrases, subjects and predicates, order, prescriptive grammar,
pragmatics, semantics, and so on. However, readers are also treated to chapters
considering “grammar online” (“Before the Internet arrived, it was difficult to see how a
local English grammatical usage in, say Singapore, could ever have made an impression on
the world English stage.”); “grammar on the job” (including sports commentary); “going
transatlantic” (“Henry Alford, author of The Queen’s English (1860), bemoans ‘the process
of deterioration which our Queen’s English as undergone at the hands of the Americans’”),
and “going global” (including stops in Shenzhen, China; Uganda; Ireland; and Cameroon).

One frustration, for this reviewer, in reading
was Crystal’s use of his daughter
Making Sense

Suzie’s experiences to illustrate the prototypical child language learning experience. Crystal
sets the stage in his Introduction when he introduces her:

“Suzie, aged eighteen months, came rushing excitedly into the room, clutching her
favourite teddy bear, and stood there in front me. ‘Push!’ she said, with a big smile
on her face.”

Suzie pops up unexpectedly from time to time then in lines such as: “When Suzie says
cars gone
, she’s doing three things at once – a multitasking ability that is at the heart of

grammar.” The insertion of episodes of Suzie’s story into the text could be abrupt and tend
to interrupt the flow of the text. Her appearance didn’t always provide a useful illustrative
example, merely a diversion. That being said, this is only a minor quibble in an otherwise
fascinating work.


is part of a series which also includes books on spelling and
Making Sense

punctuation and this trilogy (currently) would be a good resource for conlangers looking
to explore these other facets of language expression as well.


The Story of Be

come across as very British. That’s not a criticism,
Making Sense

simply an observation. Some of the phrases and situations Crystal uses as examples can
come across as strange, exotic, or simply unfamiliar to an American reader. But we could all
do with a little horizon-broadening from time to time.

Crystal does a superb job in both books of presenting a complex topic in everyday language
without “dumbing down” the material.
The Story of Be

recommended reads for anyone interested in the multifariousness of the English language.

are highly
Making Sense

Books, 2012

London: Profile
Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling, and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling.

London: Profile Books, 2015
Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation.


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