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A Little Book of Language [Paperback]

David Crystal
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
RRP: £9.99
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Book Description

1 Mar 2011
With a language disappearing every two weeks and neologisms springing up almost daily, an understanding of the origins and currency of language has never seemed more relevant. In this charming volume, a narrative history written explicitly for a young audience, expert linguist David Crystal proves why the story of language deserves retelling. From the first words of an infant to the peculiar modern dialect of text messaging, "A Little Book of Language" ranges widely, revealing language's myriad intricacies and quirks. In animated fashion, Crystal sheds light on the development of unique linguistic styles, the origins of obscure accents, and the search for the first written word. He discusses the plight of endangered languages, as well as successful cases of linguistic revitalization. Much more than a history, Crystal's work looks forward to the future of language, exploring the effect of technology on our day-to-day reading, writing, and speech. Through enlightening tables, diagrams, and quizzes, as well as Crystal's avuncular and entertaining style, "A Little Book of Language" will reveal the story of language to be a captivating tale for all ages.

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A Little Book of Language + Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (1 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300170823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300170825
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 39,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Crystal works from his home in Holyhead, North Wales, as a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster. He published the first of his 100 or so books in 1964, and became known chiefly for his research work in English language studies. He held a chair at the University of Reading for 10 years, and is now Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor.

Product Description


'Excellent.' --Ben Macintyre, The Times

'We have the demotic, lively, rigorous but unabashedly unpedantic David Crystal to remind us that living languages know no boundaries...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

'A Little Book of Language is a simple history of all language, taking in phonetics, development, social uses, the internet, endangered languages and a touch of literature.' --Joy Lo Dico, The Independent On Sunday

About the Author

David Crystal is one of the world's pre-eminent language specialists. Writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster, he is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. He has written nearly 100 books, including The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language, By Hook or By Crook: a Journey in Search of English, Txtng: the Gr8 Db8, The Stories of English, and Rediscover Grammar, as well as publishing widely on phonetics, Shakespeare's language and child language. In 1995 he was awarded the OBE for services to the English language.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fascinating book from David Crystal 14 Aug 2010
Aimed at teenagers, given I am sure David Crystal could make a phonebook seem riveting I still had to buy and add this book to my 'David Crystal' collection: and it does not disappoint.

Looking at a great number of topics in a very chatty and easy-to-read style, David Crystal covers every conceivable topic from baby talk, to how babies learn to talk, to conversation, writing, spelling, grammar, bilingualism, language change, and the changes due to the Internet and electronic communication; and plenty more topics I was surprised and delighted to see such as sign language, playing games with language, dictionaries, etymology, political correctness and language style, and much more. And all with the clarity and sensibility he always brings to language discussion [none of the "the language is inevitably going to the dogs" so favoured by some for him:], this book informs as well as entertains.

While focused on English, other languages get a look in and it was fascinating to learn of some of their rules and they way they use language.

I eagerly await his next book, as well as continuing my way through others he has written previously.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Ages Admitted 18 Jun 2010
By takingadayoff TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Wesley
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent book, covering a huge range of topics within the wonderful world of language. Crystal's style is accessible, informative and entertaining, and the book is very readable. It is aimed, I would say, at an early teen audience, so at times the tone seems a little patronising, but that can be ignored for what is a brilliant resource for anyone interested in language.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing! 20 Dec 2012
By Sofia
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great from beginning to end! It is very enjoyable and informative! I would recommend it to everyone I know! Great!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Language made Crystal Clear. 9 Feb 2012
If you have young children, or are about to become a parent, this book will start you off thinking how most of us learn to speak by copying and making sense of sounds, and perhaps a lot earlier than we realise. Acquiring language civilizes, socializes, and "forms a part of everything you do" (the author). Having language and knowing how to use it is empowering.

We may all think we know about "language" because we listen to, speak, read and write it according to our individual circumstances and motivation. Most of us don't really know all that much about language unless we set about giving it some thought. David Crystal helps us to do exactly that. He guides the reader through many interesting aspects of language - facts, facets, ideas, theories and applications - in simple written language.

This is not a textbook but rather a very well-informed series of language "stories" with useful diagrams, insets and charts written with humour, personal insights and interests which the reader is invited to share. He gets reader attention by using a near story-telling style with "I", "you" and "we" as though we are listening to him as he asks and answers questions and then brings in further related points of interest. It is as if he, the speaker and writer, is having a dialogue with you, the listener and reader.

An interesting, entertaining and thought provoking read - and not too long!
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