The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #15 May / June 2015
Book Look
by Erik Zidowecki
May / June 2015 | 

An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Language and Languages
by David Crystal
Language: English
Item Rating:
ISBN-10: 0140512349 - ISBN-13: 978-0140512342

To be honest, I don't know when or where I picked this book up. I feel like I have always had it. While the cover is appealing, it doesn't appear imposing, as if it is going to unlock some great secrets. It's not a large book, nor is it glossy or flashy. Yet I find it one of my most "comfortable" books on languages in my collection.

The title may seem a little odd, sounding like it's both an encyclopedia and a dictionary. However, that is what it is. The entries are very straightforward, so you won't be tangled in a lot of unnecessary knowledge. At the same time, when appropriate, the entries are longer, to make sure the topic is covered.

And the topics have a wide range. Opening randomly, I can read down the entries for "Bloomfield, Leonard", "body language", "Bokmål", and "bold", referring to, respectively, a linguist, a communication method, a language and a writing format. It's very easy to pick up this book and start reading each entry, learning something new with almost each entry. Terms are drawn from various fields of language study, including stylistics, language teaching, typography, and lexicography, as well as from basic topics such as figures of speech, basic phonetics and grammar.

Just about anything you can think of regarding languages seems to be listed. There are language trees, alphabet listings and samples of several entries, although perhaps not as many as one would like. For example, it shows a Runic alphabet, but not the Greek one; it has a table of kinesics (symbols representing body and face movements), but not of diacritics.

What the book does have is a sense of humour. Scattered throughout the dictionary are various cartoons depicting language humour. One such cartoon shows two tribesmen sitting facing each other. The first one is attempting to communicate using a string of consonants: "Zgbt nrvlb rsktdgm pqv ftnz." The second one is seen to be thinking "VOWELS! THAT'S what we need!".

The dictionary is not an exhaustive work for all things linguistic. It does, however, do an excellent job at covering the basics on a very wide range of language topics. When I come across a term I don't recognize, this is the first book I turn to, and it's also sometimes the only one that will contain any information on what I am looking for. While my copy is now over 20 years old (having been published in 1994), I believe most of the information to still be highly relevant. This remains one of the most used and most loved books in my library of language materials. I think others would feel the same. I give it a 5/5.

Book Look
Writer: Erik Zidowecki

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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