Meanwhile, although I haven’t yet seen the book, I have seen a review, published in Saturday’s Guardian.
I was disappointed that the strapline for the review read “Sam Leith on a lively exposition of how language changes”. Sam Leith, or perhaps rather the Guardian’s subeditor, ought to know that “language” is more than spelling; and that the book, being about our spelling and how it got that way, barely touches on how the language as a whole has changed over the centuries. What about the gradual changes in English syntax, morphology, lexis and phraseology? They are of much greater import than the superficialities of spelling.
David Crystal himself would never have been guilty of such loose terminology.
Perhaps I can at this point recycle something from my blog of 14 April 2008. I had been reading an on-line interview with David. In answer to a question about what it’s like writing and performing with other members of the family, David was quoted as saying
Ben (his son) trained as an actor, I've been in an amateur repartee company for many, many years...
The question is whether this was an intentional witticism by David, or a straightforward mishearing by the interviewer. Repertory, repartee.
Repertory is phonetically quite an interesting word. It’s OK for the Americans, since they maintain a strong ɔː vowel in the -ory ending. But we Brits weaken it to schwa, which leaves weak vowels in three successive syllables: ˈrepətəri. As usual, the penultimate schwa is subject to possible disappearance through compression, giving just ˈrepətri.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that it sometimes gets misheard.