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Whether you know absolutely nothing about a subject and are embarking on your first steps, or you are already familiar with the world the Little History describes, these are the most energetic, entertaining and reliable guides you will find.

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A Little Book of Language, by
David Crystal

Little Book of Language

Published: March 1, 2011

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North America

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Language forms a part of everything we do, even when there are no words. It is the means by which we think about, understand and share in the world. A Little Book of Language, taking in much, much more than the history of language, whisks us from a baby’s first utterances to language death, taking in breezy and funny examples of all manner of spoken, written, signed, texted and pictured language in between. David Crystal unpicks the rules of grammar, the different ways in which writing developed, how we take part in conversations, and the ever-changing fashions of slang, swearing and style. Language, says Crystal, is perpetually surprising and new. It speaks us as much as we speak it.

For instance – from Chapter 23 of A Little Book of Language – we can even tell what peoples’ jobs are from what they say.

Can you match the words in the numbered list with their likely speakers (A-G)? Answers at the bottom of the page.

1 Thou knowest how much we love Thee.
2 I put it to you that you are lying.
3 They thought it was all over – but it isn’t!
4 Stand up straight, you horrible little man!
5 Atoms combine to form units called molecules.
6 You are not obliged to say anything.
7 The delicious treat that dogs adore!

A Football commentator
B Army sergeant
C Advertiser
D Scientist
E Lawyer
F Priest
G Police officer

This fun and invaluable book is the perfect introduction to the weird and wonderful language world we live in.  You will never take your own words for granted again.


(Answers: 1F, 2E, 3A, 4B, 5D, 6G, 7C)

Listen to an interview with author David Crystal.

Some reviews

‘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

‘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

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, Independent On Sunday

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About the author

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.

More about David Crystal

About the illustrator

Jean-Manuel specialises in not specialising. He loves to do editorial for magazines and newspapers, corporate images for annual reports, advertising campaigns and book illustration.

More about Jean-Manuel Duvivier