A Little Book of Language David Crystal

Little Histories
Publication date:
15 Apr 2011
Yale University Press
272 pages: 216 x 140mm
40 illus.
Sales territories:


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Now in paperback, in the tradition of E. H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World, a lively journey through the story of language

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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David Crystal is one of the world's preeminent 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, and has published widely on phonetics, Shakespeare's language, and child language. In 1995 he was awarded the OBE for services to the English language. He lives in Holyhead, UK.

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

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

"Demotic, lively, rigorous but unabashedly unpedantic David Crystal reminds 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

"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

"A Little Book of Language may be for children (of all ages, as the saying goes), yet it's by no means childish or juvenile. In other words, buy it for your son or daughter, but read it yourself."-Michael Dirda, Washington Post

"David Crystal, a well-known linguist, knows about 100,000 words, which is certainly impressive, but he then reminds us that’s only about a 10th of the words in the English language. There’s a good chapter on spelling, a skill that seems to bear surprisingly little relation to intelligence, as well as on the inadequacies of the computer spellchecker, a blind guide indeed. To sample his own feelings for words, see his bit on the word “aftermath."-Sunday Telegraph

"An enlightening and entertaining celebration of language and linguistics."-PD Smith, The Guardian

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Related links

Visit David Crystal's Website
Read an article by David Crystal on Yale's London Blog: John Wayne or Eminem: Explaining Language to Younger Readers