You can keep a dinner party conversation going for hours by asking who our greatest living historian is. You could keep it going for days by asking who our greatest living novelist is. Ask, however, who our greatest living linguist is and you will hear nothing but the clatter of cutlery on crockery.
My guess is that if you asked Henry Hitchings he would shoot back the right answer: Randolph Quirk, Lord Quirk of Bloomsbury. Half a century ago Quirk and a team of colleagues set out to analyse how English people actually talked. The result was the Survey of English