By David Crystal
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 2008 American Library Association
Crystal has been dubbed a latter-day Samuel Johnson, and with good reason, as evidenced by the long list of academic studies penned by the distinguished linguist, among them, How Language Works (2006). However, it is Professor Henry Higgins, popularized on stage and screen, that he most often cites in this delightful book, which is part travelogue, part memoir, and part meditation on the intellectual and emotional underpinnings of language. Hired to work on a BBC project celebrating the range of present-day British English accents and dialects, he took off for a series of ports of call throughout Wales and other parts of the UK. His encounters with the locals, described with exceptionally dry humor and an eye for the entertaining detail, are often priceless. So it is that he ends up in a discussion with a farmer on the difference in bleats between Scottish and Welsh sheep, or is greeted with much pity by shopkeepers in Portmeirion, the location for the 1960s cult TV program The Prisoner, when he can’t resist parroting phrases from the show. What is most seductive about Crystal’s narrative, though, is the fascinating glimpse it provides into the quicksilver mind of a man who is so knowledgeable and yet still so curious about our mercurial language.–Joanne Wilkinson
YA/S: Young language geeks will be drawn in by Crystal’s stream-of-consciousness style and his love of wordplay. JW.