Magazine article English Drama Media

How Language Works

Magazine article English Drama Media

How Language Works

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

How Language Works

By David Crystal, Penguin, 2007

9.99 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-0141015521

484 pages

'We should look after languages like we look after our cars, by increasing our understanding of how they work', says David Crystal. So he sets out to explain how they work, how they determine everything we think, say or do, and define the various cultures of the world. But understanding language is not, of course, really like understanding a machine, so this scholarly collection of information and reflection is not very like a manual.

However, it does have some of the convenience of a reference book. The detailed index enables the reader to find their way very quickly to a specific topic whether it is 'how children learn speech sounds' or 'how conversation works' or 'how the Indo-European family is organised'. Perhaps, then, it is an encyclopaedia. The introduction considers what is meant by the actual word language. Then suddenly we are launched off into more complicate questions about the way in which body language is used or how we use what Crystal calls the 'edges of language'--vocal noises, tones of voice, manual signals. Then there are nine carefully arranged chapters to show different aspects of the way language develops and differentiates the ways in which we live. The chapters cover spoken language, written language, sign language, language structure, discourse, dialects, languages (how they are organised), multilingualism. …

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