Packed with information, memorable anecdotes and surprising statistics, all presented with assurance and enthusiasm.

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HOW LANGUAGE WORKS

HOW BABIES BABBLE, WORDS CHANGE MEANING, AND LANGUAGES LIVE OR DIE

A virtual encyclopedia of language, so broad in scope that its subtitle can only hint at its contents.

British linguist Crystal, editor of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and author of numerous other works on language, is writing here for the interested layman as well as the language maven. He touches on just about every aspect of language: the physiology behind the formation of speech sounds; how we learn to speak, read and write; how we choose what to say; how the brain handles language; how language tells who we are and where we’re from; how languages evolve. His approach is always to explain “how,” every chapter starting with that word. After beginning with spoken and written language, with a brief look at computer-mediated communication, he moves on to sign language; the structure of language; dialects; the various families of languages; and multilingualism. Following this order is not necessary, however, for Crystal advises that each short chapter is self-contained and the sequencing is up to the reader. While not quite a reference book, its index enables it to function as one, as do the illustrations, e.g., the diagrams of the human throat, ear and brain; the charts of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Sumerian pictograms in the section on writing systems; the depiction of British and American finger spelling in the section on sign language; the Indo-European language tree that demonstrates language relationships. Other language professionals may quibble with the brevity of his treatment of specific topics and argue with some of his opinions about the descriptive-vs.-prescriptive approach to the study of language; for the general reader, however, it is a user-friendly introduction to the many hitherto-unthought-of aspects of language.

Packed with information, memorable anecdotes and surprising statistics, all presented with assurance and enthusiasm.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2006

ISBN: 1-58567-848-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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