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A Little Book of Language Hardcover – June 1, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300155336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300155334
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,174,706 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“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 The Times (London))

"David Crystal is not just a great linguist, but a true champion and lover of language."—Benjamin Zephaniah
(Benjamin Zephaniah)

"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
(Nicholas Ostler)

'Crystal-clear, witty and informative, a book to bring out the linguist in us all.' - Roger McGough
(Roger McGough)

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 Seattle Times)

“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 The Boston Globe)

“Crystal rolls the basics of language--plus a few quirky insights--into one neat little package.”--Seed Magazine
 
(Seed Magazine)

“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 Washington Post)

“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

(The Daily Beast)

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

“The prolific British language writer, David Crystal, has produced another winner.”—Visualthesuarus.com
(Visualthesuarus.com)

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

The informal, conversational writing makes this book very accessible - perfect for bedtime reading.
doodledo
When I was a youngster I read books by Mario Pei, who wrote about language and linguistics for the general reader.
takingadayoff
I dropped everything else I was planning to do, and devoured this wonderful little book as quickly as I could.
Gregory J. Casteel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Is it possible that there are multiple David Crystals? It seems unlikely that just one person can write as many books, give as many interviews, and complete as many projects as he does.

A longtime fan of Crystal, I have to admit I was a little perplexed by A Little Book of Language at first. The subject matter was interesting, as usual, but the style was different. He seemed chattier, and there were so many exclamation points! What was going on?

Since I'd started reading the book immediately upon receiving it, without looking at the descriptions or blurbs, I didn't realize it is aimed at younger readers. Once that little mystery was solved, I settled back in, and found that aside from what this adult perceives as a slightly patronizing tone (but may seem quite innocuous to the age group it is aimed at), the book is quite a good introduction to many language-related topics.

While A Little Book of Language is simple, it is by no means simple-minded. Reading past the occasional clanger ("Not everyone in [Australia] speaks like [Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee]. Many Aussies have educated accents too."), I found that there was plenty for older readers to learn as well. For instance, sign languages have "accents" and someone whose native language is American Sign Language might have a distinctive accent when speaking British Sign Language, by holding the thumb straight out rather than close to the forefinger in certain words, for example.

When I was a youngster I read books by Mario Pei, who wrote about language and linguistics for the general reader. I loved his books about word origins and language quirks. Of course, his books, written in the 1960s and 70s, would be seriously out of date now.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Gregory J. Casteel on August 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I absolutely loved this book, and read it over the course of just two evenings. I wasn't planning on doing that -- my original plan was to read the book over the course of a week or two -- but, once I started reading it, I simply couldn't put it down. I dropped everything else I was planning to do, and devoured this wonderful little book as quickly as I could. It really was that good. Clear; concise; easy to read; engaging; educational; fun -- it's everything you could ask for in a book. Written for young readers, but suitable for readers of just about any age and educational level, this introduction to language and linguistics is essential reading for anyone who wants to learn the basics of how humans communicate through speech, writing, and signing.

We all grow up speaking our native language (or signing it, in the case of deaf children); and most of us learn to read and write as schoolchildren. We also learn the rules of grammar in school. And some of us even go on to study the basics of one or more foreign languages. But learning a language is not the same thing as learning ABOUT language.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By L. Potts on June 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is addressed to the previous reviewer, who doesn't (or maybe didn't, by now) realize that A Little Book of Language was written for young teens. Read a bit further in the blurbs and cover notes; the information is there. As a children's librarian, I'd like to add that children's literature is probably the most difficult kind to write, without slipping into the patronizing or the precious tone of voice. It's hardly fair to expect a book written for young people to read like a book written for adults, however. Not because adult fiction/non-fiction is somehow superior to juvenile fiction/non-fiction. It isn't. Many highly-literate adults love children's literature--which encompasses a great deal more than Mother Goose and fairy tales, by the way--as writing of great immediacy, power, and feeling. Mr. Crystal did an outstanding job of addressing today's young teen audience, a difficult task, especially when we consider the written word must now compete with technology for the attention of young people. I can testify that it is, at times, an uphill struggle for teens accustomed to the truncated minimalist "English" of text messaging to relate to language at its richest and best. It was high time for A Little Book of Language to appear. I applaud Mr. Crystal for bringing it about.

L. S. Potts
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Roman Weissmann on August 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm an economist but use to read books from other sciences so when I found this Litte Book of Language, I knew that it was going to fit my needs. I'm a generalist so didn't want to read a high profile book on Semantics. Crystal does it very good, even if your mother tongue is Spanish, like in my case!!

Crystal provides you with a broad range of concepts re.Language, with examples coming from French, Spanish, etc.

He goes back to the history of the language but also explains recent developments with it, like [...] (the web page which makes a cloud of words with any text you submit).

The way he writes is very simple (at a times I felt I was an elementary school boy) but, again, being English not my mother tongue, it wasn't a handicap.

If you know nothing about Language and want to have a complete and sound overview, this is definitely your book.
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