In this exhilarating and often hilarious book, David Crystal examines why we devote so much time and energy to language games, how professionals make a career of them, and how young children instinctively take to them. Crystal makes a simple argument-that since playing with language is so natural, a natural way to learn language is to play with it-while he discusses puns, crosswords, lipograms, comic alphabets, rhymes, funny voices taken from dialect and popular culture, limericks, anagrams, scat singing, and much more.
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Language play takes different forms for different people. Some people groove on crossword puzzles; others gravitate toward Scrabble. Still others like to rap, tell jokes, speak in puns, or recite Monty Python skits verbatim. What they all have in common--what we all have in common, says linguist David Crystal--is a love of language play. "The phenomenon of language play," he writes, "seems to cut across regional, social and professional background, age, sex, ethnicity, personality, intelligence and culture." As it turns out, little research has been done on the subject. Language exists, it is usually thought, to communicate ideas. Crystal argues that "it is difficult to see how ping-pong punning can possibly fit in with [this] view."
In Language Play, Crystal explores the various ways in which people play with language. He outlines the professions--including advertising, headline writing, and comedy--that rely on language play. He talks about the importance of play in language development, even for the infants. And he argues that the printed matter used in schools (he lives in the U.K., by the way) sorely needs updating to reflect children's interest in rhyme, nonsense, pattern, new words, and the like. Examples new and old (from the 1800s) demonstrate the ways in which language can entertain. But language play is more than just entertaining, the author says; "it brings people into rapport with each other." In fact, he says, "disaffection with someone's language play is ... a sign that a relationship is on the way to breaking down." Think about it: "When you get annoyed by someone's silly voices, find their mock regional accents extremely irritating, or their favourite word game pointless and boring, then all is definitely not well." --Jane SteinbergAbout the Author:
David Crystal is the Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. His previous books include The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, English as a Global Language, A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, Language Death, and Words on Words, the last published by the University of Chicago Press.
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