Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: A little book of language

Speaking of the library, I recently checked out A little book of language by David Crystal. Last week I finished . I found it a great and quick read, very conversational and accessible in language and tone. The inner jacket of the books begins like this:
"With a language disappearing every two weeks and neologisms springing up almost daily, understanding the origins and currency of language has never seemed more relevant. In this charming volume, expert linguist David Crystal proves why the story of language deserves a retelling."
Aside from the incredibly poor use of the word prove, I have to agree with the assessment. It is indeed a charming volume, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Crystal covers a broad sweep of topics. The book opens with several chapters discussing the language development in children. Crystal then segues into the basic elements of language: spelling, grammar, accents, etc. From there he moves into a variety of language topics. Some of my favorite chapters were 21 Language change, 22 Language variation, 26 Etymology (a topic that always intrigues me), and 31 Language at play.

Despite the variety of topics and a tendency to jump from one topic to another, A little book of language does not come across as fragmented. There are mini "sections", for example chapters 27 and 28 discuss place names personal names, respectively. Crystal also does a great job of pulling the chapters together, reminding readers ideas already mentioned and hinting at what's to come. The overall effect is one of great scope and cohesiveness.

A little book of learning is not an overly academic read. Unlike previous Crystal texts, such as Language death, I can't imagine it being used as a university or college textbook, unless in an introduction to linguistics course. For those with a linguistics or language education background, there will be few, if any, major conceptual revelations. At best you might acquire some trivial yet captivating facts.

To whom then would I recommend this book? First, this is a great introductory text for those flirting with interest in linguistics and language-related topics. It's full of great information, and yet because of the brevity of each chapter, readers are left not only captivated, but also desiring to learn more. Second, for those of us with linguistics and language-related backgrounds, although there may be little in the way of new concepts, the Crystal's love of language shines through in in his writing. The prose is engrossing, and if you've lost a bit of your passion for language learning, language teaching or language study, A little book of language will likely reignite that flame.

"This is a 'little book' about language. But language is a big subject. None bigger, to my mind. It's the Mount Everest of subjects. I suppose that's why I find it all so fascinating." (David Crystal)

Stars: 4.5 / 5

Follow me on Twitter @MatthewTShowman.

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