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How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die
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How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  476 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Whether looking at the whistle languages of the Canary Islands or describing the layout of the human throat, this landmark book will enrich the lives of everyone who reads it.
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published November 16th 2006 by Overlook Hardcover (first published 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,716)
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Katya Epstein
Personally I found this book frustrating: It covers too much material in too few pages (and my edition is almost 500 pages of very small print). The coverage of each topic was too superficial to be engrossing. I already knew a lot of the material and was disappointed not to learn more: He would mention something that would pique my interest, but then move right on to something else. For the material I didn't already know, the discussion was too cursory to really stick: no examples, analysis, or ...more
Matilda
A clear and concise listing of all the issues that are related to language, from the physiological (how we produce sounds, how we hear sounds) to how we use language. The latter is, of course, a large subject, including such items as how babies learn language from their parents, how we mean something different than what we actually say ("It's cold in here!" can be interpreted as "Close the window, please!"), and my favorite subject, the status of dialects and how its in constant influx.

This book
...more
Chris Little
An enjoyable overview of linguistics. Crystal's 73 chapters can be read consecutively, or - he claims - dipped into at random. Each chapter is a short introduction to one topic. For example, 'How vocabulary grows' or 'How to study dialects'. Since each is only five pages or so, you know not to expect too much - it's an orientation to the topic.
Towards the end of the book (unless you randomly start there, of course), Crystal shows his great desire in writing: to encourage more interest in and con
...more
Laurel
There's so much information in this book that it's difficult to absorb it all, let alone recall it a few days after the fact. To a language enthusiast like me, it was fascinating; I could see how many or perhaps most readers might get bored. Some chapters are much more interesting than others: I'm not that jazzed about the explanation of how we physically produce a uvular fricative, but I love the discussions of how humans learn language and about common features that all languages share. Crysta ...more
Daniel Taylor
While this book isn't specifically geared toward helping writers become better, it's a comprehensive look at how language develops and is learned and used.

In 73 chapters it covers introducing language, spoken language, written language, sign language, language structure, discourse, dialects, languages, multilingualism, and looking after language.

Despite its length, the book is a fast read and unexpectedly enjoyable. Think of it as a introduction to language as a whole, as it doesn't go into grea
...more
Jaylia3
This is an interesting and easy to read book. The chapters do not need to be read consecutively, each is a self-contained essay on some aspect of language.

I had hardly started the book, when it started me on an observational quest for an "Eyebrow Flash". I got one that same night from the ticket seller when I went to see a movie. Here is what the book says on page 7:

"Some visual effects are widely used in the cultures of the world. An example is the EYEBROW FLASH, used unconsciously when people
...more
Russell
I would almost think about rating this book 4 stars (and then buying a copy), but there were several chapters that were extra informative (the type that makes me sleepy) and slightly fluffy. However, I very much enjoyed what I did learn regarding basic linguistic concepts, the many facets of cultural communication, what we know about how the brain works in constructing language flow (verbal, written, physical, etc) and the plethora of other connect-the-dots type of information (73 chapters worth ...more
Angus Stirling
''Aren't you lovely!' said a man outside the window of a car showroom, unaware that a linguist was passing him at the time.'

73 pithy chapters giving an introduction to the many facets of language.
Louise
This book is arranged in chapters that can stand alone or be read as a volume. Chapters are divided into sub chapters which similarly stand alone or can be read as a cohesive work of prose.

While the author is British, the emphasis is universal. The British influence shows the most in the discussion of dialects.

The articles vary from being anecdotal to factually meaty. The chapters on vocabulary show how vocabulary is learned with great anecdotes and factual backup. Like Crystal, I think that thi
...more
Jonathan
I was hopeful that this book would be as interesting as Wolf's "Proust and the Squid" in its discussion of how language allows humans to communicate. Indeed, the table of contents looked impressive. However, it was more like a semi-comprehensive reference book, with a few pages on each topic. Probably good as a jumping-off point if you are interested in some aspect of language, and probably better appreciated by linguists who already know the jargon. Written in a very dry, sterile manner and wit ...more
Lacey
Some pretty cool information in this book. Was a good read and I'm not much of a nonfiction kind of girl but I am finding quite a few that I have enjoyed...this being one of them.
Marci
Too broad and basic for me, but generally well written and easy to understand. A good book for beginners or those with a casual curiosity about language.
Lydia Atkins
I'm going to be starting A2 English Language in September and I found this book excellent preparation. It's been helping my mind busy with linguistic terminology during the holidays so that when I get back I'll be ready to go!
I would say though that you do need quite a strong base of knowledge to understand it fully as it does get quite complex and the book is quite dense and tough going. But that said, it's very informative and covers nearly every base you can think of. Stick with it until the
...more
Lindsay Boyd
Fascinating stuff for those who are interested in linguistics, but might be a little off-putting to others due its rather dry, textbook-like style.
PastAllReason
Though the writing style itself is good, the content is very generalized and introductory. This might make a reasonable introductory text for a linguistics course, but did not really hold my interest. Even the section on language families, which was of greatest interest to me, lacked the basics of an actual diagram showing the inter-relationships of the language families. Instead, Crystal includes multiple chapters of prose, one family following the other. Disappointing.
Holmes
This book is an excellent overview and summary of everything about language. I've already read many books by David Crystal, but he never ceases to impress me with his knowledge and passion for language. One can certainly treat this book as THE book to read as an introduction to language studies. I would even say this: if you're thinking about studying linguistics but are not sure if you'll like it, then read this book first. It will definitely help you make up your mind.
Lesley O'Mara
Accessibly written, this book has been the perfect introduction to linguistics for me. Each chapter provides a decent overview of the different area of linguistics and language which could be studied further elsewhere. Although I read this book cover to cover, it's written in such a way that you could dip in and out of relevant chapters as you need them - I'm confident I'll be coming back to this book again and again for reference during my studies and beyond.
Matthew
A very comprehensive look at how language works. Since I took a couple of linguistic classes and spent a lot of time on foreign languages in college, not much of this was new to me, so I skimmed through a great deal of this book. There were maybe about a dozen chapters that I read from start to finish. However, for the amateur linguist, or anyone thinking this might be a career direction they'd like to explore, this is the book for you.
Kevan
I am afraid that I was disappointed with this book. I love the topic of language and I do not think that I have ever failed to read one to completion.
There's a first time for everything.
This book is a very shallow survey of so many aspects of language that is repeatedly degenerates into an exercise in listing disciplines.
Eventually I simply couldn't continue to read an endless, unmemorable survey of the field of linguistics.
Nathan Glenn
An excellent introduction/supplement on linguistics. It includes the scientific, artistic and political sides of linguistics. It would make a great textbook, keeping in mind that there are no excercises.
I also really enjoyed that he explained fully the stance of the modern linguist towards language change and variation, and prescriptive grammar.
I highly recommend this to anyone interested in learning about linguistics/language.
Matthew
An excellent introduction to linguistics and the psychology behind language. Very nice for laypeople, but still sophisticated enough for generating discussions in class.
Wander
Informative, but pretty basic and slightly boring.

He tries to raise people's awareness of the eminent extinction of some languages and suggests that we take care of them BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. Not sure if I agree. Languages are constantly changing, splitting, and disappearing. The death of a language is not tragic. It's natural.

Anyways, this is a good book for the linguistically curious and uninformed.
James
I havent read this book from cover to cover. It is really not a book that centers around a thesis or idea but instead works more like a reference book on language/linguistics. I have referred back to this book on topics about linguistics which were not my strength and even read a few excerpts on topics that I didnt know anything about. A good primary reference book on language/linguistics
Nick
This book is frustratingly general for the specialist and probably too specific for the generalist. It's an account of all the issues one can imagine concerning language -- a linguistic encyclopedia, if you will. One item per chapter, but the chapters are so short that you won't learn very much. So, unless you just want a very general overview of linguistics, this book will disappoint.
Maggie
i deeply appreciate this book -- the breadth and the depth of the particulars of language and how it works for humans is well presented. and contrasts far more handsomely to steven pinker's the language instinct simply because crystal doesn't have an evolutionary-pushing agenda but rather presents the details as they are currently known and understood w/o reaching beyond the our grasp of what is.
Skyblueteapot
It's HUGE, the first book I have ever managed to read cover-to-cover on introductory linguistics, which says a lot for its readability. Written in laymen's terms, it still manages to say a lot that was new to me.

It missed out on 5 stars because I felt it was a bit of a mixture: too long to be a layman's book, too superficial to be a first year university textbook.
Sasha
At times interesting and educational other times snore worthy. Was expecting it to be a bit more like the last book of David Crystal's that I read (Spell it out) which was much more layperson friendly and ( to me at least) consistently interesting. Still worth reading but most people (myself included) will need to break it up a bit to get through.
Bob Hartley
I'm really fucking interested in language, even though I only bought this to photocopy for a project in uni (I studied illustration). Reading it in my own time is a bonus. It's good because it's cross-referenced. It's not exactly advanced but there's an analogy for that that Crystal might have come up with. He's one of my heroes. I'd have him round for tea.
Heather
Oct 30, 2009 Heather rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all language lovers
Recommended to Heather by: saw it in a book store!
Shelves: language, own
This was a great book on the basics of the study of Linguistics. I felt it was written in laymen's terms and therefore easily followed, but I'm not sure that's because I'm familiar with the jargon since I majored in it or not. But I love all things language and I felt that David Crystal does a great job of this.
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David Crystal works from his home in Holyhead, North Wales, as a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster. Born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland in 1941, he spent his early years in Holyhead. His family moved to Liverpool in 1951, and he received his secondary schooling at St Mary's College. He read English at University College London (1959-62), specialised in English language studies, did some rese ...more
More about David Crystal...
The Story of English in 100 Words The Stories of English The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language A Little Book of Language The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language

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