Walking English: A Journey in Search of Language


A fascinating and insightful romp through the language we speak every day, by the linguistic expert who 'succeeds again and again with clarity, wit and enthusiasm' (New York Times)

In this discursive jaunt through the groves and thickets of the English language, David Crystal creates a mesmerizing and entertaining narrative account of his encounters with the language and its speakers. Woven from personal reflections, historical allusions, and observations of travelers, this ...

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Walking English: A Journey in Search of Language

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A fascinating and insightful romp through the language we speak every day, by the linguistic expert who 'succeeds again and again with clarity, wit and enthusiasm' (New York Times)

In this discursive jaunt through the groves and thickets of the English language, David Crystal creates a mesmerizing and entertaining narrative account of his encounters with the language and its speakers. Woven from personal reflections, historical allusions, and observations of travelers, this fascinating journey through the language we use every day will have readers thinking twice about each word they speak.

Starting in Wales and moving from England to San Francisco by way of, yes, Poland, Crystal encounters numerous linguistic side roads that he cannot resist exploring, from pubs to trains to Tolkien. Walking English captures the seductive, quirky, teasing, tantalizing nature of the language itself-a Bill Bryson-esque exploration of language by our foremost expert on the subject.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Linguist Crystal (How Language Works) elucidates the "serendipitous nature of language study" as he meanders from Wales to San Francisco by way of England and Poland, taking every opportunity for linguistic exploration. A somewhat rambling travelogue is paired with Crystal's idiosyncratic thought processes, and the book is full of descriptive anecdotes culminating in linguistic intrigue. Often something simple such as an impromptu "Good morning" from a Welsh shepherd is the trigger, in this case prompting the history of the shepherd's "crook" of the book's title. Crystal searches for-and finds-surprising topics in the lush cultures surrounding him, including the etymology of the name of a Welsh town which contains 58 letters (it's Llanfairpwll for short), causing him to speculate on why words containing "consonants like m, n, l, and r" are considered "the most beautiful," to discuss the "linguistic processes of a wordplayer" and to conclude with a version of Hamletin which every word begins with "h." In a conversational style that includes plenty of quirky facts, Crystal captures the "exploratory, seductive, teasing, quirky, tantalizing nature of language study," and in doing so illuminates the fascinating world of words in which we live. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Linguist Crystal (How Language Works, 2006, etc.), whose learned disquisitions have sometimes bewildered readers, lightens up with an inviting text combining the best features of travel writing, memoir and scholarship. On assignment for the BBC's "Voices" project, which aimed to record and celebrate Britain's many dialects and accents, the author traveled around the United Kingdom, beginning and ending in Wales. His wry humor is evident throughout, as in a passage about the origin of assembly-of-animal expressions like "a murder of crows"-among the new ones Crystal suggests is "a sulk of teenagers." Loosely arranged into "a linguistic travelogue," his account centers on the various communities he visited. Though the poet Shelley once claimed an assassin attacked him in Porthmadog, Crystal's own trip there was uneventful. While many Brits find the Birmingham accent ugly, the author notes that foreigners often describe it as melodious. In the town of Hay, Crystal explored its many antiquarian bookshops and visited the castle once occupied by the man who became the model for Shakespeare's Falstaff. Driving out of Lichfield, birthplace of Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, the author thought of an earlier trip to San Francisco, and the text segues into an exploration of the differences between American and British English. On the same drive, a straight stretch of road recalled the similarly rectilinear Piotrkowaska Street in Lodz, Poland's second-largest city, whose unconventional use of English in various shop signs Crystal discusses. He goes on to examine the 1960s TV show The Prisoner, Henry Higgins, Lady Godiva, the emergence of standard spelling, punctuation and usage, curious sayings(see the title), English around the globe, language games (an amusing retelling of Hamlet includes only words beginning with h) and the changes in vocabulary and spelling in the American editions of Harry Potter novels. An informative, transformative trip into the mysterious, mutating, magical thicket of English.
The Barnes & Noble Review
In this venture into the quagmire of the English language, the linguist David Crystal embarks on a haphazard travelogue, modeled very broadly after W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn. Backcountry roads, pub signs, and excitable sheep are for Crystal all opportunities to digress and expound upon the variousness of English etymology. Writing with the colloquial lucidity of a professor downing a martini, Crystal is a more-than-able guide: his traipsing about the British countryside (with minor detours to India, Poland, and San Francisco) provides a delightful window into the intricacies of place names. Who knew that Bricklehampton was the longest isogrammatic place name in English? And for that matter, who knew an isogram was a word in which each letter appears an equal number of times? But By Hook or by Crook has more to its pages than just fun facts. Beneath its airy demeanor lies a real awareness of the fact that when dealing with language, politics tends to follow not far behind, and Crystal's geographical premise allows him to take on the daunting linguistic questions raised by globalization. Crystal may have a nerd's ardor for the finer points of grammar, but he's no curmudgeon either -- his English is a language in an ongoing evolution, "a period in which the foundation for major linguistic change is being laid" by the Internet and the growth of new linguistic subcultures (Euro-English, Indian English, the "Singlish" of Singapore). Etymology may seem an arcane subject, but Crystal's seemingly infinite curiosity is infectious -- it's hard not to get caught up in his distinctly British relish for the absurd. --Amelia Atlas
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590202630
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 9/29/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,129,911
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, and the editor of The Penguin Encyclopedia.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


1 By Hook or by Crook: Gaerwen 1

2 Making a Beeline: Menai 13

3 We Want Information: Portmeiron 31

4 Where are You From?: Welshpool 50

5 Good Evening, Each: Birmingham 70

6 Book-Browser Syndrome: Hay 88

7 Now Godiva was a Lady: Leominster 108

8 The Robot's not Working: Risbury 128

9 Who was Leonard Slye?: Stratford 150

10 Shall We Shog?: Kolkata 172

11 A Rash of Dermatologists: Arden 188

12 A Wheelbarrow Called Wilberforce: Lichfield 207

13 How do You Like Your Eggs?: San Francisco 228

14 My Husband is Without: Lodz 248

15 I'm Jack: Llangollen 267

On the Way: References and Sources 287

Index of Places 293

Index of People and Characters 301

Index of Topics 307

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