From 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 Hamlet
in 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.
*Starred Review* Crystal has been dubbed a latter-day Samuel Johnson, and with good reason, as evidenced by the long list of academic studies penned by the distinguished linguist, among them, How Language Works (2006). However, it is Professor Henry Higgins, popularized on stage and screen, that he most often cites in this delightful book, which is part travelogue, part memoir, and part meditation on the intellectual and emotional underpinnings of language. Hired to work on a BBC project celebrating the range of present-day British English accents and dialects, he took off for a series of ports of call throughout Wales and other parts of the UK. His encounters with the locals, described with exceptionally dry humor and an eye for the entertaining detail, are often priceless. So it is that he ends up in a discussion with a farmer on the difference in bleats between Scottish and Welsh sheep, or is greeted with much pity by shopkeepers in Portmeirion, the location for the 1960s cult TV program The Prisoner, when he can’t resist parroting phrases from the show. What is most seductive about Crystal’s narrative, though, is the fascinating glimpse it provides into the quicksilver mind of a man who is so knowledgeable and yet still so curious about our mercurial language. --Joanne Wilkinson