English is spoken or written today by a third of the world's population - an unprecedented achievement for a language. How has this situation come about? And what happens to a language when it is used by so many? In this illustrated history David Crystal charts the development of the language from the earliest runic inscriptions in Old English, through the emergence of a standard variety of English between 1400 and 1800, to the most modern forms of the language in 'concrete' and 'text' poetry. In telling the story he draws on examples from English in its various guises and uses - from our everyday English to English in the workplace and English used as a medium of playful and literary expression. The regional and international varieties of English are also considered. This book shows us where language is now, where it has been, and - perhaps most important of all - where it is heading, for the new varieties of the language appearing in world literature and on the Internet show that this is a story which is by no means over.