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A Little Book of Language

(Little History)

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,053 ratings  ·  135 reviews
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
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by Yale University Press (first published March 13th 2010)
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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 ·  1,053 ratings  ·  135 reviews

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Cheryl Gatling
This book has one problem with it-- the writing style, which is called breezy or chatty by the people who like it, condescending or patronizing by the people who didn't. I became impatient at being spoken to like a child, but apparently the author is addressing himself to young people. That breeziness, while potentially irritating, is also the book's greatest strength. Crystal's boundless enthusiasm for his subject makes the study of language, which is, in practice, one of the driest and most ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I think the low ratings are unfair as I believe many of the reviewers do not realize this book is for young people. As a speech/language pathologist, the content was a review for me...but I also really enjoy David Crystal's books, so I picked it up to see what he would say. I found the style to be easy-breezy enough, but packed full of the "need to know" conceptual information vital to briefly understanding how language develops given real-life examples. I was seized with the wish that all ...more
Kirstin Brie
May 25, 2010 rated it liked it

I was really excited when I won this book from Yale University Press; I love reading modern books about language development, research, and usage. This book did not disappoint, although I do have three main complaints about it.

First though, lets look at the things I enjoyed. I loved how well researched this book was and how David Crystal concerned himself with the study of language development, use, and adaptation from a general point of view. Most of the examples in the book were, necessarily,

Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It did what I expected it to do - it rekindled some passion in me for languages. Good timing, as I'm slowly (very slowly) getting into a third foreign language. Cheers.
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating read!
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
3.5 stars for a good introduction to linguistics for young people.
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's a good introduction for people who don't know much about linguistics, if you have already studied some linguistics then you'll probably read a lot of stuff you already know.
Arushi Kapoor
Jul 23, 2014 rated it liked it
The book is meant for all those people out there who care about language. Language is very important to express one's ideas though it's also true that a person never actually speaks what he intends to. That's where learning different styles of language helps him to get to the closest of speaking clearly and exactly his thoughts and feelings. Rhetoricians have mastered different styles of language and so they can get their point across with ease.
Learning any language is a mountainous task. David
Jul 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-for-school
I was a linguist for six days.

Jeez, language is complicated and there's so many of them and they're dying and IT'S SO IMPORTANT. I know a lot more than I used to. Very interesting. Very intriguing.

You can't downgrade a book based solely on the fact that it was British (can you? Eh, I don't think so). I'm American and it's more of a preference thing for me. I'm used to words being written a certain way and called a certain thing, and having double quotations for quotes (") instead of single
Mar 08, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
As a Linguistics major, I think it's always interesting to read about how an infant can acquire language. Still reading, and will let you know what it's like once I get more in-depth. So far, I love it.

Here's a bit about this book:
"From an infant's first words to the peculiar dialect of text messaging, "A Little Book of Language" ranges widely, revealing language's myriad intricacies and quirks. Crystal delves into the development of unique linguistic styles, the origins of obscure accents and
Jun 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
The bookjacket blurb describes Mr. Crystal's style as "avuncular and entertaining". I should have paid more attention to the "avuncular', since his approach to language (my favorite topic) seems to aimed at the average American middle-schooler.

Problem is, this book is being marketed to grown-ups. If you buy it, pass it along to a tweener who would probably benefit from this very fundamental little book.
May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
A delightful, slightly lighthearted, slightly condescending summary of my grueling college years. Enjoyed every page of it even if it was a well-charted land for me ...
Michael Armijo
Jul 31, 2013 rated it liked it
I actually found this book on a side street in Paris, France in May 2013. I felt it was fate that it found me and chose to read it. It's rather INFORMATIONAL but I think I'm an ENGLISH/LINGUISTICS type of person and I got a lot of interesting factoids from it. Here are some of the things that captured me specifically:

This book turns to the future of language, exploring the effect of technology on our day to day reading, writing and speech.

“It wasn’t what he said, it was the way he said it that
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I can't comment on the accuracy of this book, only my opinions as someone who knows nothing (but slightly more than I used to!) about linguistics. This is a good book for beginners. The chapters are shorter so you don't really have to commit and he introduces the topics very well. Some people thought the author was being a bit condescending, but I honestly saw it as a courtesy. Obviously if you were well versed in the topic, you would buy a more specific book, instead of a small one that covers ...more
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed chapters 1-8, which mostly deal with how humans produce sounds and how babies learn languages since I didn't know anything about this.

But the rest of the book was a bit of a disappointment.

Each chapter is very short and doesn't go into any detail, so I didn't learn much at all.

If you're interested in learning about linguistics I would recommend other books written for a general audience such as John McWhorter's "Words on the Move".
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was truly brilliant. Well done David Crystal, you’ve converted me to linguistics.

Only thing I didn’t love was how it was quite simplistic, however I didn’t expect anything else tbh. It’s an introduction which is aimed for everyone including children. The slang and text speak was a bit outdated, but it was written in 2009, a whole 10 years ago!

I’m definitely going to read his encyclopedia of language soon (not encyclopaedia, interesting US English influence there!)
Rayner Tan
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A real great read. Talks about many aspects of languages that I have never considered. It also brought to light how important the study of linguistics is and how it can be applied in very practical situations. Such as in forensics, using the writing styles of individuals as evidence to prove or disprove that someone wrote something or not. Or even to help children with slower language development catch up and not be left alone in school. It’s a really great eye opening read.
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it
A bit disappointing, since it’s written for amateurs of linguistics only. Simple and basic explanations, good for those who want to start at the topic. I’d recommend to first year students of linguistics and linguistics enthusiasts.
Lenka Příplatová
A little bit of everything from developmental psychology through how to use a dictionary to the disappearance of the old languages. Nice and simple introduction to linguistics for young readers or someone without deeper knowledge of the area.
Nick Mario
Aug 09, 2019 rated it liked it
A quite informative book, though in some parts it drags on, and is a bit tedious. The first few chapters were boring but thats because i dont like phonetics that much. However, the prose was fine and the author obviously is excited about linguistics. All in all, quite an enjoyable read.
Justin N
Oct 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting facts but is a little too simplistic at times and seems to be directed at a much younger audience. Or maybe it's just Crystal's writing style. Overall a great primer to linguistics though.
Gözde Acar
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I strongly encourage you to read this book if you are keen to have some context around languages. David Crystal provides a great overview why linguistics is so important and how we can contribute. The book has so many fun facts that helps you keep your focus.
Fede Casillas
Aug 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Once I started reading this book i realized it was written for kids. I read it nonetheless. Love the writer’s passion for language history. I found it really entertaining, and learn a thing or two along the way.
Nur '
Jun 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
Much better
Fern Adams
An interesting overview of language acquisition, roots and changes. A good starter book but a bit too simplistic in places. Good chapter on etymology.
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Entertaining and easy to read, but not a lot of new information for a certified Ms. Language Person. Written for younger readers and those new to the topic, I think.
Julian Bu
Apr 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Occasionally interesting.
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I wish I had read this when I was just starting my linguistics program; I feel like I'd have gotten so much out of it. As it was, it was a very fun read which made me think about teaching and language at its core. I don't believe it is condescending at all; people who think this need to get over themselves. The writing is approachable and not aimed at professional linguists but a broader public- and it is advertised so!

There were sections near the end I would have foregone, which is why I
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting and easy to read. Excellent book for someone who is keen to know more about language. A little book with a big educational kick.
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really interesting book
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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 ...more

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“People sometimes say: 'A picture is worth a thousand words.' That's true. But language is never far away. To talk about the picture, you may need a thousand words.” 2 likes
“We'll never get them to notice us if we say ordinary things in an ordinary way.” 0 likes
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