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

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Penguin, Nov 1, 2007 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 512 pages
7 Reviews
Steven Pinker meets Bill Bryson in this landmark exploration of language.

In the author's own words, "How Language Works is not about music, cookery, or sex. But it is about how we talk about music, cookery, and sex-or, indeed, anything at all." Language is so fundamental to everyday life that we take it for granted. But as David Crystal makes clear in this work of unprecedented scope, language is an extremely powerful tool that defines the human species.

Crystal offers general readers a personal tour of the intricate workings of language. He moves effortlessly from big subjects like the origins of languages, how children learn to speak, and how conversation works to subtle but revealing points such as how email differs from both speech and writing in important ways, how language reveals a person's social status, and how we decide whether a word is rude or polite.

Broad and deep, but with a light and witty touch, How Language Works is the ultimate layman's guide to how we communicate with one another.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - SashaM - LibraryThing

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 ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - MarthaJeanne - LibraryThing

If you don't know much about linguistics, this is a good place to start. It could also be useful for learning about areas of linguistics you have never entered before. If you have already read a number of books about language/linguistics you will be bored. Read full review


How to treat body language 5
Spoken language
phase 1 18
phase 2 25
How we transmit sounds 32
How we hear speech sounds 39
How we perceive speech 44
How we describe consonants and vowels 58
How sentences work 247
How we learn grammar 254
How we discourse 260
How conversation works 267
How we choose what to say 275
How we cant choose what to say 282
How we know where someone is from 289

How we organize the sounds of speech 66
How we use tone of voice 73
the first year 79
later years 85
How speech can go wrong 90
early times 105
modern times 113
How we read 121
How we write and spell 127
How we learn to read and write 133
How reading and writing can go wrong 140
Sign language 25 How sign language works 159
How sign languages vary 164
Language structure 27 How the brain handles language 171
How to investigate language structure 180
How we mean 186
How we analyse meaning 192
How we learn vocabulary 198
How children learn to mean 204
How dictionaries work 210
How names work 217
How vocabulary grows 224
How we study grammar 230
How words work 236
How we classify words 242
the ethnic issue 302
the social issue 309
the stylistic issue 316
the contextual issue 322
How dialects differ from languages 329
How languages die 336
How languages are born 343
How language changes 357
How language families work 364
How the IndoEuropean family is organized 371
How other Eurasian families are organized part one 380
How the IndoPacific island families are organized 393
How African families are organized 397
How American families are organized 403
How multilingualism works 409
translate them 416
supplement them 423
learn them 430
teach them 437
plan them 444
How not to look after languages 451
recognizing principles 457
recognizing functions 462
recognizing varieties 469

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About the author (2007)

David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, and the editor of The Penguin Encyclopedia.


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