David Crystal's Six Good Reasons to Study the English Language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Jan 13 15:08:48 UTC 2009

 David Crystal's Six Good Reasons to Study the English Language Monday
January 12, 2009

Some books about the English language are cleverly written--playful,
humorous, and all too often littered with inaccuracies. At the other end of
the shelf are the formal linguistic studies--heavily footnoted, agonizingly
precise, and generally painful to read. And then there are David Crystal's
books (over 100 of them at last count), which manage to be both scholarly *
and* eminently readable. An honorary professor and part-time lecturer of
linguistics at Bangor University in Wales, Crystal has been conducting
research in language studies since the early 1960s. Throughout this Grammar
& Composition website, you'll find references to several of his recent
works, including *The Stories of English* (2004), *How Language
Works*(2005), and
*The Fight for English* (2006).

But Crystal's greatest achievement, and the one book about language that all
students and linguaphiles should own, is *The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the
English Language* (2003), described by a reviewer as "the most diverting,
delightful, imaginative and altogether entertaining compilation ever
assembled about spoken and written English." Here you'll learn about dactyls
and dialects, flyting and rhyming, language change, language delay, language
shift, and language loyalty. Phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics
have never been this much fun. In his preface to *The Cambridge Encyclopedia
*, Crystal examines the question, "Why study the English language?" See if
you can come up with any answers that are better than these.

   - *Because it's fascinating*
   It is remarkable how often the language turns up as a topic of interest
   in daily conversation--whether it is a question about accents and dialects,
   a comment about usage and standards, or simply curiosity about a word's
   origins and history.

   - *Because it's important*
   The dominant role of English as a world language forces it upon our
   attention in a way that no language has ever done before. As English becomes
   the chief means of communication between nations, it is crucial to ensure
   that it is taught accurately and efficiently, and to study changes in its
   structure and use.

   - *Because it's fun*
   One of the most popular leisure pursuits is to play with the English
   language--with its words, sounds, spellings, and structures. Crosswords,
   Scrabble(R), media word shows, and many other quizzes and guessing
games keep
   millions happily occupied every day, teasing their linguistic brain centres
   and sending them running to their dictionaries.

   - *Because it's beautiful*
   Each language has its unique beauty and power, as seen to best effect in
   the works of its great orators and writers. We can see the 1,000-year-old
   history of English writing only through the glass of language, and anything
   we learn about English as a language can serve to increase our appreciation
   of its oratory and literature.

   - *Because it's useful*
   Getting the language right is a major issue in almost every corner of
   society. No one wants to be accused of ambiguity and obscurity, or find
   themselves talking or writing at cross-purposes. The more we know about the
   language the more chance we shall have of success, whether we are
   advertisers, politicians, priests, journalists, doctors, lawyers--or just
   ordinary people at home, trying to understand and be understood.

   - *Because it's there*
   English, more than any other language, has attracted the interest of
   professional linguists. It has been analysed in dozens of different ways, as
   part of the linguist's aim of devising a theory about the nature of language
   in general. The study of the English language, in this way, becomes a branch
   of linguistics--English linguistics.

To learn more about David Crystal and his books on language, visit
davidcrystal.com <http://www.davidcrystal.com/>.
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