‘How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning and Languages Live or Die by David Crystal (512pp, Penguin, £22)
Words, Words, Words by David Crystal (224pp, Oxford, £12.99)
Possibly only Stephen King rivals David Crystal in terms of literary productivity: King has written millions of words and lives in Bangor, Maine; Crystal has written millions of words and is a professor of linguistics in Bangor, Wales. But there, alas, the neat, enfolding similarities between these two great logomonomaniacs seem to end: King writes schlock about madmen, haunted cars and menstruating teenagers; Crystal writes about language.
This year brings two books from the prolific professor. Words, Words, Words is a primer on language aimed at schoolchildren. The most interesting part of the book is the chapter “Becoming a word detective”, in which he offers useful hints on how to study language. He suggests learning a word a day and helpfully notes that the OED will email you just such a daily word if you register atwww.oed.com/services/email-wotd.html. His final piece of advice for budding word detectives is: “There may be a club or society for wordsmiths in your area. If not, start one.”
If you did decide to start up such a society, then How Language Works might usefully serve as your scripture. The book is the perfect one-volume introduction to the study of language. In 73 chapters Crystal covers everything from “How we transmit sounds” to “How conversation works”; the book also includes excellent diagrams of the inner ear and the vocal organs.’