Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Honk If You Love Words English Language and Western Alphabets Showcased

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Honk If You Love Words English Language and Western Alphabets Showcased

Article excerpt

THE CAMBRIDGE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

By David Crystal,

Cambridge University Press 489 pp., $49.95

THE ALPHABETIC LABYRINTH: THE LETTERS IN HISTORY

and Imagination

By Johanna Drucker

Thames and Hudson

320 pp., $45

Like many comprehensive reference books, "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language" is a complex compendium of information, erudition, and scholarship. But author David Crystal, a linguistic specialist who lives in Wales, has put together a source book on the tongue heard round the world that will appeal to more than word wonks.

Covering the history, structure, and use of English, with numerous side trips and subtopics, this large format volume offers a feast of facts. Intricately designed two-page spreads include main text, graphics, full-color photographs, boxes of related details, and often humorous sidebars. Each page offers a complete discussion of a concept. Familiar categories are covered - vocabulary, grammar, spoken and written language, regional variations, etc., but with a fresh focus.

Readers can dip and dabble or take the plunge into a subject such as "Gender Issues" or "Literary Neologizing." The attractive layout of even a fairly technical section like "Clause Elements" lures the browser to at least read a list of "Vocatives" and discover among other examples, "Evaluative labels: darling, pig, dear."

Multiple appendixes - a glossary of linguistic terms and another of symbols, a reference list plus a bibliography, and separate indexes of terms, people, and topics - make this an unusually accessible encyclopedia. …

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