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How Language Works Paperback – November 1, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-1583332917 ISBN-10: 158333291X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Avery Trade (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158333291X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583332917
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A world authority on language, Crystal (The Stories of English) offers an impeccably organized guide to language and communication that brings clarity to a scholarly subject, and is sure to become a standard reference. Written in an unadorned style, Crystal's chapters are purposeful lessons ("How we use tone of voice"; "How children learn to mean"; "How we choose what to say") that demonstrate his pedagogical genius for rendering complex matters simple. Crystal's tome imparts a vast amount of knowledge concerning intricate and interrelated aspects of speech, the written word, lexicography, grammar and neurological aspects of communication; it encompasses issues of identity, ethnicity and the preservation of disappearing languages, the structural organization of the world's different language families, multilingualism, and the pragmatic uses of artificial and natural languages. A feat of academic distillation, Crystal's book abounds in wisdom and dry wit. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Longtime language writer and linguistics professor Crystal (The Stories of English, 2004) offers a well-organized, thoroughly comprehensive guide to language and communication in 73 short chapters. The passionate word enthusiast addresses every aspect of language, including how we learn to speak, read, and write; the physiology behind the formation of speech sounds; how we choose what to say; how gestures and tone of voice impact communication; how the brain handles language; and how language tells us where we are from. After beginning with spoken and written language, Crystal moves on to sign language, language structure, discourse, dialects, language families, and multilingualism. The book also includes diagrams of the human tongue, ear, and brain; a chart of Egyptian hieroglyphs over time; and illustrations of finger spelling. Although its size and subject matter may suggest otherwise, this volume is aimed at and written for general readers, and Crystal makes for an especially genial guide. Whether expressing his fair-minded assessment of the prescriptive-descriptive debate or knowledgably discussing the connection between dialects and social status, he proves to be both accessible and informative. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. He has written or edited over 100 books and published numerous articles for scholarly, professional, and general readerships, in fields ranging from forensic linguistics and ELT to the liturgy and Shakespeare. His many books include Words, Words, Words (OUP 2006) and The Fight for English (OUP 2006).

Customer Reviews

So perhaps everything is simply the result of trying to cram too much into a single book.
Paul Magnussen
Championing languages as facets of intellectual and cultural diversity as well as miracles of science and nature, How Language Works is highly recommended.
Midwest Book Review
The author really ought to have revised his book slightly for the U.S. edition -- isn't that standard practice with books for an international audience?
DJ MichaelAngelo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By J. Birchell on July 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I would strongly disagree with the review that contends that this book does not explore its subject matter in enough depth. I particularly disagree with the reviewer when he keeps asking for further explanation ("it doesn't explain WHY...") The book is not intended to explain why. As the introduction makes clear, it is intended as an explanation of the HOW of linguistics; in other words, it is intended as a diagnostic overview of linguistic science. It is not a scientific investigation. It is not a historical (or etymological) overview of linguistic practices. It is a description of those practices. In this light, it succeeds admirably. I found the book extremely informative as an effective introduction to linguistics. And I did NOT find it a difficult read.
If you have no background study in linguistics, I HIGHLY recommend this book.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ray Cemic on February 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book covers every aspect of language: the physiological, paralingual communication, nuances of language, and almost any other thing that you can think of involving language. It is from England so some of the spellings and phrasings are different, but I found it to be interesting, readable, and full of new information, based on the latest research.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, And Languages Live Or Die by expert linguist David Crystal is a comprehensive guide written for lay readers and linguistic scholars alike to how language develops and evolves, both in individuals and in societies. In addition to chronicling how new languages are created from the mixing of cultures, and surveying the process of how languages die, How Language Works also makes an impassioned plea to protect and sustain as many languages as possible in a modern world beset with the threat of literally thousands of human languages on the verge of extinction. Championing languages as facets of intellectual and cultural diversity as well as miracles of science and nature, How Language Works is highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Panda on March 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
Maybe it will sound strange, but what I liked most about the book was not its content but its form: what a concise, structured, balanced and nearly perfect syntax! The sentences, paragraphs, sub-sections and chapters are of a perfect size and everything is written in a clear and comprehensible manner. The indentation and the typography for both text and titles were carefully designed and the kind of paper and the binding are of excellent quality, so the book is a pleasure to read and handle.

The book is an excellent introduction to linguistics or to how language works, starting from the anatomy of the vocal apparatus to how we produce sounds, from how we articulate them into a language to how we hear and distinguish language from noise; then it turns to how different parts of our brain process language to how we assign meaning and how languages are structured to better convey this meaning (how grammar serves semantics). It also includes sections on how languages are born, how they evolve and how they die, as well as how the currently existing languages belong to certain language families. Finally it concludes with how we can take care of languages in order to preserve the language diversity (and therefore the cultural heritage) of the world, since languages are extinguishing at an extremely fast pace, maybe even faster than that of the extinction of animal species.

The author covers a lot of topics, but for the same reason he delves not too deep into any of them. Regarding the topics that interested me most, I would have liked greater detail, but this is probably not possible in a book with such a wide scope. This book will probably lead you to some more specific sources in some linguistic area.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By K. F. Barnes on February 21, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is really beautiful - the fonts used and the layout are very distinctive. A++ on that.

The book itself is a series of short chapters on a wide variety of language topics each of which could stand alone. It is interesting and well written, if a tad dry, but not too deep on any one topic. Think of a series of magazine articles in a magazine devoted to a particular interest, where the level of vocabulary assumes some knowledge of the topic. The chapters are all cross referenced - it would easily move to a web article.

The breath of topics is very wide - from sounds and physiology to computer translation by way of grammar and language families. Overall it is very informative, but a book to take in small doses.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Roland on February 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As Crystal notes in the introduction, this is a book explaining the "how" of language, not the what. His chapters are short and to the point, not getting too deep into technical terms but explaining ideas as needed.

The diagrams give all the pertinent information and are useful in understanding the physiology of speech, especially.

His examples are revelent and interesting. Sometimes he seems to pick and choose which points he puts in the book and which he doesn't, giving the book a feel of being unbalanced, but this could just be my own emotions reflected on the material.

I would buy it again.
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