Another Crystal gem is released by the Oxford University Press. Produced with Hilary Crystal, his wife, business partner, occasional co-author and a novelist, the universally-adored prolific language warrior and wordsmith David Crystal has come up with a picturesque book, in its full sense. He wrote the book whilst Hilary took the splendid photos (despite the mean weather in 2012!).
This aptly named book plays on the words wordsmiths and warriors. As you will discover in its pages, these two seemingly very different occupations have been often simultaneously had by people who dramatically influenced the course of the English tongue - King Alfred, King James I, John Smith and Byrhtnoth as warriors contributing to wordsmithery on the one hand, Isaac Pitman, John Dryden, Samuel Johnson and Henry Fowler as wordsmiths with warring determination on the other hand.
...some warriors, such as King Alfred, were wordsmiths; and some wordsmiths, such as George Bernard Shaw, were definitely warriors, in the way they fought for a linguistic cause.
In between, there have been "peaceful" contributors to the English language, like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hardy, Roget, Murray and Caxton. Crystal and Crystal's account also expands on the crucial religious-linguistic turnarounds through such figures as Wycliffe, Tyndale or Wulfstan. But it is not just singular "big" names that form the word cloud of the English tongue - Crystal also exposes the symbolic status of vital places and institutions like UCL, Pegwell Bay of the Anglo-Saxon arrival or the Normans Bay of the Norman Conquest.
All this can, of course, be studied through books on history, linguistics, literature and religion. The joy of Crystal and Crystal's book is that here the language, historical contexts, events and names become alive, intimate and, in a way, tangible when you reconnect with the immediate physical environment where these people and events happened. Reading this book is not and should not be an end in itself - its impact is in using it as a guide to see, touch, smell and take in all those places scattered around Britain that echo the heartbeat of the English tongue.
Whilst you may not have trouble orienting where to go to see Shakespeare's birthplace, grave or theatres, as a language enthusiast, you have probably ever wished to see the inn at which Chaucer's Canterbury tellers start their pilgrimage or the chair on which Wycliffe was carried out after he had a stroke. I suppose the latter view is as spine-chilling as seeing Wycliffe's Bible, the first translation of the bible into the vernacular.
Wordsmiths and Warriors is far from being a standard "black and white" travel guide. Crystal does not follow a set pattern and no chapter in the book is predictable - virtually every one unfolds a linguistic surprise. Moreover, Crystal enthusiastically shares the places and occasions which revealed an unexpected linguistic bonus for them as well, like the Virginia Settlers memorial alongside the East India Dock - both symbolising the global sprawl of English.
No less valuable are the helpful directions at the end of each chapter on how to get to the places by the most convenient and time-saving route.
Wordsmiths and Warriors is not targeting merely English-language tourists with a linguistic education - it is a splendiferous, beautiful, colourful book that every language, history, archaeology and literature lover should have on their coffee tables and tucked under their arms when they get on a train to jaunt across the country. People are quick with identifying associations and turning places into pilgrimage destinations. With this Crystal-clear guide in your travel backpack, you will know what to look for at St. Pancras other than a train or that there is a fascinating linguistic history lurking in Lindisfarne other than a church and a castle.
The Isle is full of noises and this book will make an English language tourist's or, virtually, any tourist's, visit to Britain a revitalising experience. And there is, undoubtedly, the methodological, educational and pragmatic benefit of the book. It is, as Crystal puts it:
... a powerful way of making language study come alive.
With the always absorbing, very readable Crystal style, Wordsmiths and Warriors is a must have.
And if you cannot get enough of the book and would like to hear Crystal and Crystal talk about wordsmiths and warriors, check out their Events webpage here. I highly recommend both owning the book and grabbing the opportunity to listen to the authors live!