cover image A Little Book of Language

A Little Book of Language

David Crystal, Yale Univ., $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-300-15533-4

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)