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A Little Book of Language

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Overview

With a language disappearing every two weeks and neologisms springing up almost daily, an understanding of the origins and currency of language has never seemed more relevant. In this charming volume, a narrative history written explicitly for a young audience, expert linguist David Crystal proves why the story of language deserves retelling.

From the first words of an infant to the peculiar modern dialect of text messaging, A Little Book of Language ranges widely, revealing language’s myriad intricacies and quirks. In animated fashion, Crystal sheds light on the development of unique linguistic styles, the origins of obscure accents, and the search for the first written word. He discusses the plight of endangered languages, as well as successful cases of linguistic revitalization. Much more than a history, Crystal’s work looks forward to the future of language, exploring the effect of technology on our day-to-day reading, writing, and speech. Through enlightening tables, diagrams, and quizzes, as well as Crystal’s avuncular and entertaining style, A Little Book of Language will reveal the story of language to be a captivating tale for all ages.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the mode of Yale’s successful publication of E.H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World, one of the world’s leading linguists introduces us to our most critical mode of communication. Crystal (The Story of English) fills this exhilarating romp through the mysteries and vagaries of language, from how infants acquire language to how many words the average adult knows (40,000) and slang (“Linguists love collecting slang. It’s a bit like collecting stamps”). In a concluding minimanifesto, he hopes, among other things, that everyone who has a real interest in language will try to preserve the world’s languages in all their rich variety, whether remote, dying languages or the variations of dialect and accent in their own language. This is especially important today, he says, to note how we shape language and how language shapes us. Crystal smoothly boils down his vast knowledge about the peculiarities of spelling, grammar, and diction, and the influence of new kinds of linguistic style (computer language, texting) on language development. This is the perfect primer for anyone interested in the subject. Illus. (June)
The Times (London)

“Demotic, lively, rigorous but unabashedly unpedantic David Crystal remind[s] us that living languages know no boundaries, that they adapt themselves joyously to new conditions. Here he indulges himself with great good humour in his little book of love for the pleasures of language and words worldwide.” — Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)

— Iain Finlayson

Seattle Times

A Little Book of Language is a paean to language in all its guises. Crystal has clearly thought long and hard about his subject. . . .[H]e is always revealing and thought-provoking.”--David B. Williams, Seattle Times

— David B. Williams

The Boston Globe

“David Crystal. . . is a charming tour guide. . . . He is excited, not cranky, about how language is changing in the Internet age.”--Jan Gardner, The Boston Globe

— Jan Gardner

Seed Magazine
“Crystal rolls the basics of language—plus a few quirky insights—into one neat little package.”—Seed Magazine
Washington Post

“Crystal here writes for the true beginner, but does so with his usual clarity and authority, as he ranges from ancient etymologies to modern text-messaging. The chapters--again 40 of them--are made doubly engaging by Jean-Manuel Duvivier''s frolicsome, highly stylized black-and-white illustrations.”--Michael Dirda, Washington Post

— Michael Dirda

The Daily Beast
“In his light and amusing A Little Book of Language, David Crystal treats the world's 6,000 tongues—which are disappearing at an alarming rate—as a natural resource no less precious than our oceans and forests.”
The Daily Beast

PopMatters

"Delightfully approachable. . . [a] 101-level of study with a heavy helping of charm and nary a dash of condescension."--Megan Stride, PopMatters

— Megan Stride

The Times (London) - Iain Finlayson
“Demotic, lively, rigorous but unabashedly unpedantic David Crystal remind[s] us that living languages know no boundaries, that they adapt themselves joyously to new conditions. Here he indulges himself with great good humour in his little book of love for the pleasures of language and words worldwide.” — Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)
Benjamin Zephaniah
"David Crystal is not just a great linguist, but a true champion and lover of language."—Benjamin Zephaniah
Nicholas Ostler
"An excellent book to put in the hands of anyone first starting to think about the wonders of what we all take for granted, our shared capacity to talk and understand." - Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word
Roger McGough
'Crystal-clear, witty and informative, a book to bring out the linguist in us all.' - Roger McGough
Seattle Times - David B. Williams
A Little Book of Language is a paean to language in all its guises. Crystal has clearly thought long and hard about his subject. . . .[H]e is always revealing and thought-provoking.”—David B. Williams, Seattle Times
The Boston Globe - Jan Gardner
“David Crystal. . . is a charming tour guide. . . . He is excited, not cranky, about how language is changing in the Internet age.”—Jan Gardner, The Boston Globe
Washington Post - Michael Dirda
“Crystal here writes for the true beginner, but does so with his usual clarity and authority, as he ranges from ancient etymologies to modern text-messaging. The chapters—again 40 of them—are made doubly engaging by Jean-Manuel Duvivier's frolicsome, highly stylized black-and-white illustrations.”—Michael Dirda, Washington Post
PopMatters - Megan Stride
"Delightfully approachable. . . [a] 101-level of study with a heavy helping of charm and nary a dash of condescension."—Megan Stride, PopMatters
Visualthesuarus.com
“The prolific British language writer, David Crystal, has produced another winner.”—Visualthesuarus.com
Michael Dirda
…[Crystal] writes for the true beginner, but does so with his usual clarity and authority, as he ranges from ancient etymologies to modern text-messaging. The chapters…are made doubly engaging by Jean-Manuel Duvivier's frolicsome, highly stylized black-and-white illustrations…Like Gombrich's A Little History of the World, Crystal's A Little Book of Language may be for children (of all ages, as the saying goes), yet it's by no means childish or juvenile. In other words, buy it for your son or daughter, but read it yourself.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300155334
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 833,486
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David Crystal is one of the world's preeminent language specialists. Writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster, he is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. He has written nearly 100 books, including The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language, By Hook or By Crook: A Journey in Search of English, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, The Stories of English, and Rediscover Grammar, and has published widely on phonetics, Shakespeare's language, and child language. In 1995 he was awarded the OBE for services to the English language. He lives in Holyhead, UK.

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Table of Contents

1 Baby-Talk 1

2 From Cries to Words 6

3 Learning How to Understand 14

4 Making Vibrations 21

5 Pronouncing Sounds 28

6 Discovering Grammar 34

7 Having a Conversation 40

8 Learning to Read and Write 45

9 Getting to Grips with Spelling 52

10 Spelling Rules and Variations 58

11 Grammar Rules and Variations 65

12 Accents and Dialects 71

13 Being Bilingual 78

14 The Languages of the World 84

15 The Origins of Speech 92

16 The Origins of Writing 98

17 Modern Writing 104

18 Sign Language 112

19 Comparing Languages 118

20 Dying Languages 125

21 Language Change 131

22 Language Variation 138

23 Language at Work 145

24 Slang 151

25 Dictionaries 157

26 Etymology 163

27 Place Names 169

28 Personal Names 176

29 The Electronic Revolution 183

30 Texting 189

31 Language at Play 195

32 Why use Language? 201

33 Language for Feelings 209

34 Political Correctness 215

35 Language in Literature 221

36 Developing a Style 227

37 The Complexity of Language 233

38 Linguistics 239

39 Applied Linguistics 244

40 Your Language World 250

Index 255

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