"The man is a national treasure' John Humphrys

How La"!J~~e W'Ot'KS-

1>~vid Ct'~stat

How bOobies b~tttt. WOI'~J" Jan_,e "'.ea"1~ ~t\" L,I\JlAA 3eJ five or eire ".


Prefaee xi

I ntrod uci ng Iia nguage

~. HO\v what works! 1

2; How to treat hoJ¥ languag~ 5

:I HiDW we use the: 'edges' of lall<~uage n

S pO ke n la nguage

4 How we make speechsounds, phase 1 18 ~ How we make speechsounds. phase 2 2,5 6 How we transmit sounds 3.2

7 How we bear speech sounds ~9 s: How we perceJv.e speech 44

9 How m dlescrlbe speech sounds Sl

10 Howwif diesnibe consonants and vowels S8 11 H.OWWf organize the sounds of speech 66 12 How we use tone of voice 73

13 How children learn speech sounds: the-first ye,ar 79 141 How children Iearn speech sounds- later year~ SS

15 How speech can g:o wmng go

Written language

]6 How we wrdt~ 97

17 How we malce writing systems: early Urnes ]OS rS How 'We make wri'tin.g systems: modem times 113 19' How we read 121

20 How we write and spell 127

21 How we Ieam to read and write' 133-

22 How reading and writing can go wrong 140 2.3 How wrltlng and speech d,lffer ]47

24 How the electronic medium dfffers 15'>

Stigrl la nguage

25 How sign ],mgllil_ge works 159 26 Hmv sign languagesvary 164

Language structure

27 How the brain handles language In

28 How to ]Il¥es,t~;gate language structure ~8:o 29 How we mean 186

30 How we lInaly'se mealiing ]92 31 How we learn vocabulary 198

32 How children learn 'to, mean 204 33 How dicnonartes work 2iO

34 How names work :&17

35 How vocabulary grows 224

36 How we study grammar 23;0

';;; 3,7 How wo'rds work 236

3& How we classify words 241 39 How sentmCes work 247

40 How we learn grammar 254


4JI. How we discourse 260

42 How ccnvarsa tion works 2.67 43 lclow we choose what to say 275

44 How we can't cheese what to say 282


45 How we know whe:re someone i:s from 289 46 How to study dialects 251'5

47 Ho,w we know what someone is; the ethnic issue 302 48 How we know what someone is.; the social issue ;;'09 49 How we know who someone is; the styltsttc issue 316

50 How we know where someone is'; the contextual lssue 322 51 How dialects d I:ilQT from lenguages 32.9


52 How languages d1Q 336

53 How lan!l:ua!!~s are born 343, 54 How language began 3S0'

5S How language changes 3S7

S6 How langu<l!ge families worl 364

57 How the lndo-furopean family is organized 311

5:8 How oilier Ilurasian famiHe$ are 'OJganlz.ed - pa rt one 380 59 How other Eurasian families are ofgam~ed - part two 387 fit) How the lndo- Pacific lsLmd. families are o'tganJz.ed 393

61 How M,dcan fa milles are organized 397

62. How Arl:lerkan families are ,organized 403,

Mult~ I rngua I ism

63 How multilinguahsm works 409

64, How we cope wiith many bllguages; trtlttll]a.te them 4~6

6.5 How we rope with many Ja.[Ig!llages; supplement 'them 423, ,66 How we rope w:lith many hlIlgllla,ges; learn them 430

67 How we (lope w.ith manyl.angua,ges; teach them 437

68 How we oope with many Ianguages, plan them 444

59 Hoy,' not to ~oo.k after ]lIogilllges 451

tooki ng after la nguage

70 MowlO l.oaik lIfte.I' lal'lguage8~ ~ocO'gni'Ztn~ pFinciples 4'57 71 How to !.ook lI[nef ]allguages= recogl'li.'Zi.ng, functiolls 402 72 How to ~.oo.k after ]lIllg1lag;e,~= ~ecogni.'Zing, varieties 469 73 Teachi.ng people to look after I:a]lgml~,es 4'17

further .Readiing 48,5 Index 4S,


[ know an a.[tist who has spent his, whole me pa,tnh[lg iii sWHifu,in i!l'Rlll'11~rllble versions, in ordertc gel: ill rlght, I know another who continually IepilIi]llts.a. s~IIIe, in vanous lights and! clreurastaeees, in order te ~I!aLnfres;mtin8:ig~t~ i:IlilD i.1e. There is no end te the ]liroeess_ It i;~ alway~ tne MXl work Whld'l wu~ ~ achieve the longed-for resolution

'The S:ll:ldy of.language is no, d:ifir:el'ent. I have lostem.mot of the number oWm.es.~ have triedto Introduce this subject to one readership or another. 'I'h~re are, [umagine;. 'only SD many ways of tlflling the language story, 'I:JI!.r~ one goe~ Oirl lODk~n.~ fur newan~~e:s> new insIghts, The present book has been an 1nteli~tinjl exeretsc in takin,g fammar ideas and letfi'linking them wi11l a reeus on UtC 'how' rarher than on the;! 'what", ·wttt. 'where', or 'w1:L~t'I'. I 1l<!ve quJt,e c:01:'l5doll~ly InooIJ"Pora.tcOO m<lJt{llia.] from my earl~m' ~:q.'toOsltlo!l.S dbp'ayLng those OU;l~l' emph_a,s.es., but I hope I ha\i'e managed to present U here in a msl1 and In~~Ns:th:t~ way ..

It is not n~es;~ary to ~ad! the "ook 'from leU to right" _ Each, chapter 15 deslgned as a $eU:·oon~ainoo !,!:Iut, and there are many eress-referenees to assodated cbapte.rs. This is the d:lsU~:u:Uve feaU.l.fe '01.1' 3!ny '!low' appreach, The sectlon ill a COiir manuel wfiLldl tells you about its 'ry:rres (an be read ilndepoendeIilUyof theonewhich tJe]ls you aboutuhi .light.:S"

This is a book. about how ~y~g,e works, !lOt ahout bow the study ill l~ngWlge W'o.rks, That would be c:ilJl.led 'Hm" linguistics wo<rts' - or peIha.ps better, 'How I.iEUf;Oii.:m wod;:', J ~ a: H:mgu.ist So you w:ill see from

these p1lg,es how I. wmk; how .1 think about: I:mguag~.. ~l]Jt there is no attempt in these ~mges to repres€ll.t the full rn.nge m opiniQJ!lS - :at times often very dii.vel'genil - abeut the way lal1!~ua&e can or should be studied. Th.t~ i~ aoov,e all a pef:!l.QflaI aceeunt, N.orls there' much on the m~~hodology of .lil'lgu]sHc enquiry: while I talk a. lot about cilrtd la:nguag~. for ~)i;arnvl~, .1 dio nmr;ay lInytbing about tile range Q(r metheds that linguis:ts use' wb>frJj ~Iley are ~nveshgatillg child !anguage.1 ha".elherfi1t'pl'~ mcluded a short btb]iQgraphy of further ~l!;Idtf1g for those who Nach §73 and wish to ~te ~Qchth]niWS further.

Da:vi.d Crystal HoJyh~, AprH 2005

1 How 'what works?

'Language', the title of this book says_ But what isme,ant by 'lan~uag~'? Co=idie[ the foUowtng expressions:

body ]lIIlgJilage

spoken lan~tlage-

written lan~uage

sign lallg,u.:a,ge

computer langu,a,ge

the French language


animal language

ti'lJ(i!la:nguag~ of blrds

ti);(i! Janguage of elnema

fu(i! languag,e (If muslc

U1JC la:nguag~ (If 10Viil

Plainly tI'lJ(i! word tsbe1ng us.ad 1n many ways, - soms tedlokal, some ftgurativCil - and lliril senses go tn varlcus directions. Ira revi~ were to remark. :f!!ft:e:r Sin impressive erehestrel concert, 'The conductor and the muslelans Were 8J11~pe.al\:i:ng the same langua;ge'"we 'WOuld1, interpret this to be a comment about their playing, nettheirchatttng And the same pomtappHesto oUu~r ]i:n,guistk terms, when used! in special settings, [ have seen books called 'The Gmmmr.rr of r.aokiJ'lg' 11M The Syntax of Sex. The ~'t was a coUecHon of recipes - as was the second,

How l.anguC!ge Works is not about music, or cookery, or sex, But it is about how we talk about music. cookery, and sex - or, indeed. about anything at: all, And it Is also about how we write about these 'thlngs. and send eIectro.nic messages about them" and on occasion use manual signs to eommunlcate them. "file operative 1,I'i{ndis 'how', It is ,~ommonplace to see a remarkable special d'fect on a television screen and react by exclaim· ing 'How dld they do that?' It ]8 not quite so usual to exclalm when we observe someone speaklng Ilstentng, reading, writing,. or Signing, And }'"e1 if anythmg is worthy of exclamation, It is the human ability to speak. listen, read, WItte, and. si:gll,

An alienvisitor to Earth mIght well wonder what was going (1)" [t would S-~- humans <lppmach each other, use their mouths to exchange a series of nolses, and - apparently as a result of making these noises - cooperate in some act1v1ty, It would see human eyes lock at 11 set ofmarik:s Inscrjbed em <I surface. and the eye-oVllJlen> then behaving in the same way - going out of one door [ather than another tn a theatre, for instance. Rather less often, it would see some humans ustng their hands and faces to achieve the same results that others obtafn through the me of their mouths .. In each case it might think: 'How did they do that?' And in each ease the answer would be the same; 'through the use of language' ..

But om alien would also observe other kinds of behaviour. It would

see humans smiling and frowning at eadl other. er waving and gestuemg, or stroking and kissing. [t would notice that 'the effect of carrying out these actions was similar in some respects to that produced by the U5>e of spoken noises, written marks, and manus.'! Signs. It might w,eU reflect; can these actions therefore be called 'Iilnguage' too?

Om alien would also see apparently slmtler behaviour -among other species. It would see a bee find. a source of nectar, return to a hive. and perfonn a series of dance-like body movements. Other bees would then

N move on in the direction of the nectar .. Animals of all kinds woult1 seem

to 00 sending information to each other Jn analogous ways. Is this the same sort of behaviour as the humans are di!;play:ing, cur allen observer might think? Do animals also hav-elangua,ge?

These questions involve- more than hypothetical exlnli'eITestrlals,

le}1\e~ll!'l.al observ,en:;, also Il.eoo, t{) 'bE' a.bl~ 1'0' ~Dswer them, <IS a, :preliminary stage in the study of~lIriguag~., ]f W~ p.id: uP' a manual called How Can Wo,rk. we do not expect to find in it chapters on bkycle~ and lawn-mowers, Nor, in How M1iI9U(l'9l:' Wolfs. w,iU there be much Spll~ dJeVDlDOO, tothe Use of facial expressions ilnd body moyeme:llIts O[ to theway anim.aJ:s oommum:ii:-tlt:e. Why non

Modes of com m u n lcatlon

Beenuse not 311. of these forms of commu!'Iication aile l.mguClye, tnthe sense ofth:is book Com m U!1 (cation is a much broader CQJlO!pt, jnvolv1ng the transrmsston and reception of any kind of infonnalion between ,any kind of lite. U. is 3, IlllFi~ domain of enqui ry, d~aliflg w~nh [lOfn:ern,edl hYman and ,ani:I:I1Ja.l mmmnni!l;:3!liol'l in an it~ m.odes. '['hOS!! who study be.hOlIV1oli.l.f l;iISllalty Gin this domain sern !oUC&_ Linguistics, the sdenceof ]anguage. Is flust one: blanch of semiotics,

'['here ~re five m.odies of human oommumcatilm. because Hum~ are oru:y five human senses whlch can act ss dLannel.s ()I.I' .ildomlSitIOfl; sound. s,ight ~ouch. smell and~aSle, or course. If youoo]leve 1:11. 'tlelepa:tby, you would flee-a to reoog:n:l<lle a 'sb:th ~n[>a' av,alla.blefoJ ootruil'lltfli,ca:ti():t1; and perhaps tlleJ'e are 11f!! :forms which interact tlisilli,g still other modes, slJch as tfie .noo·vi.sJbJe <lleas of U\Le ,ele(ltIDma;gi1uHje spectrum, But: the five t[a<iit.ional. human se:nsmy medes are all] we need. to putthe subject of this book. iato a more general perspective.

The :inf()rm~tion we sendandreeeive us:ing these modes ]s US1~;t]!.y cill]ed the meotl.n.ing of OU[ comm1l1nocation. But: the fivem.odes are not equally [',e]eviuil't for the trnmm:ission andreception o:f me<lDing, In faet; two of them [pby bllrdly any mJe!llt all [Ill human beings - the o.Yhdo.ry (~,rnerl) aln.dl gllstJtl:to'ry' (taste) modes, Wf!: do not: routmely emu smells in

order to' communic,ate with others (the eonrrolled fil:1J.tu~,e:nt behavh;mr of '"

some r.mal1 boys notwithstanding). :;!I'ul there is 3. Vf!ry UmUed amOl:J fit of

information a.bolJ!t~he outsidewerld which we ca!n Jl'!ceilre through Utemediums ·of smell and! taste, E,y eantrast; the use of sQund - the QUafWry· voc.al mode -is fundamentalto the I)DHO:r1 of 13:l)glJ!a!!~. and! thepropertles

of this mode w1ll form the major part of this book (§4). Speech is the primary manifestation of language, in all coltures,

'[he tCl'cWe and yJ.~u{i1 modes fall. somewhere between these two extremes. They are oft~n technically described as being channels of nonverbal' {'Om rn un icotiol1 because the way in which we use facia,! expressions, gestures, and touch behaviour seems to contrast with the woeds and sentences we describe as verbal' language, But ordinary peop,~e die not talk about nonverbal cemmumcation Instead, they ~imply refer to body language.

Is this use of 'language' the same as the one we use' when we 'talk about speech, wdt..lng. and signing, or about ~ngIi5h. French, and CWnesti!7 Should! large sections of nus book be devoted to how f'o.1dal expressions and manual gestures work? The answerJs no. and to understand w:by we need to. briefly consider the differences between what is tnvolved In nonverbal tactile and visual commumcanon. on tile ODe hand, and tn ~al1guage_, on the other. 'W'e shall see that these aHleTenoes also. enable us to dtsregard animal communlcanen, as well as the other figurative applications of the term, We shall be lC'ft wtth a trinity of mediums - speech, writing, and sign - which manif(tsI our concept of 'language',


How we make

s peech sou nds: phase 1

The parts of the "body used in the preduetton of speeeh ale called the vocal OfgGP1'$, andthere are more of them than wernighl expect. We have to, take into ~oo)U.TU the .Iungs, the (If],mat, the morH.i-J, and the lW~. Inside th~ mouth, W"e must disti]1gul~h tb,Q' U:p~, the to.tJ;g:rJe, the le~(f!I,~he l'oof of th~ ltlo·1,n:b (or :pa.!(i,~e)" alild the smaaln~sby appc;ndag,e ha.n,glng d,o~ at Ule: l!'~!'Y baclk. @f the palaJte I(th~ ~ltu'a). lnslde the thT@:l:l, weJ'lnd! the I,lppe~ par~, o;r phary.tJx,. operating,in a iliff'e~m way from tn.e lowe~ part, o~' larynx. And wUhin the larynx {§.s} WI!! need! to reoogni:l!c the important role ,oflhc' VQco(fol'as, loeated oomnd the Adam's OIpp1e. The spaoooo~n Ule veal folds ls know)] as the gloWs, There lsa lot gO~l:'Ig O:IiL at the s~me

t1m~, whru"Ji we speak.

Tha pharynx, m.outliiI.. and! nose form a system of holb:rw areas, or cavLtles, known a sthe vO>CClI O'OIcl. (S.ome ~peech selannsts lnclude the Larynx and lun.8~ lUl.dier this heading as welL) Willen we meve the organs 1ntlle: vocal tract, w,e aUer Its shape, and U b~h~s whkh e.ll.ables tn.e many diff~rent scunds of' spoJiJe-[1 lan,~.uilg.e to be· produced. ln fact, His the

relll.arKa.Dle verSil.tiHty of the human vocal. tract which is 00 netieeable

o/!. wh.en we mmpa:re humans with therr nearest an.]ma! ccusms, the


The primate vocal tract is very different froen tha~ fi:mndi in humans . . Prbnates have long. f1l31t, thin tongues, which have less room to move. Their larynxIs higher (~'5); and there is ]itHe sign of 3. pharynx, ']'b~ are


Frenulum, ------=~~

- --------------------, Ph;ufn~c~1 C'a~u:y

------- Ore'nlng of 'DeS()phasu~

s.mpat~~ ----------

------ GJo9sopa12l~1n~ arch

-) ------ P'abtJne um5l1

9 How we descri be

speech sounds

The dies.criphon andclassi:ficatiml ofspeechscunds isthe main aim of plIDnNic sdeP1~e, er phonetics. We can identify sounds ll'iith reference to loci, producMon {or arfiwIcUicm) in theveceltract, their acoustic transmission. or their aUd:itory reception, The most widely used descrtpttous are tln'lclI!L'ltory, because the vocal. tract provides 11 eonventent and wellunderssoed ref'ere.nce ]Joint (~,S); but audttcryjudgements p~a.y an tmpertant part In the identification of some sounds (of vO'!.l'i'e~s, mpartieular).

An arUculato,IY phonetic description genera]!y makes ref:eYen~ to thE! follOiWiog fu.ctOf5,

How we !.i~e the 110m! folds

We need to consider the variable aUionof the vocal fo~d:s - ill partieuler, the p:res.-fTJAJe or absence of vibration t§S.). Voiced sounds <Ire produced. when the 1;'0('.31 folds vibra:ll;l; voiceless scundsare prodncedwhen there is 110 y]hrnticm, the fDM~ re.ma.hun& epen, Other voeal-foldactions are sometimes referred to, such as the way the glotUs wOlrk:J· 'IN hen it produces a glottal stop [p, 2,7)-

How we use the ,~ir·st[eam

The source and d:ir'ecticm of air fl.owid!tmt~fies the baste class of sound, The vast majo.rtty of speech sounds are prodiuoedus1ng,pVllmontc egre~;5.1y.e. air (§4J.

Cam~narlt~ (Non-NlmonIfJ


I v.lmilll.l..m i . 'n .

I krI::aL.l..1r.lI:lI:a ,10(11).:1 I on

i La.1:i!!! e:

. t.1.nr.L:1'f:I, if""

blr::ll~LhI:irt ~

.~"_ rt-1t~T Ii>ll .... _~


_ 1..m.Iw'iJ.(IIttIai~ all. bJnJi)

! .... """'. ~ """"i_ t ~!"''P ~ !!a:iOo1f,.

Thnes and _00 ,a~~~~

L.evt>I 'oo~Yr

(11<1:< I'oJoed ~I"'" EjNII ...

011i~h::bi F.. !.iilltiaJ

ILknI.J du.:",.l.v.J.!J~

! _ !1lliLoJ

• -. >1- ,1_1wnI i1L""-""

it'. 1Gm.i...DIl.ta.iinhdru:::.ltn W~ttbl.fi~'a.prc!;i;l:lm:I.l1l

L:I 1r:a!-:d tr.h1.cl1-r11l11l11!;l~t..l.l11

H ~ ~~t1il":li(J1gi1"ll!

'I __ ., fl:bIM

1 I,J>I_"_

~ :r .1."' 11,....-

l ~·u""->ol.n.p

6 1:i::l:wf...-..,uL J :.-n::I X

.d'l"IICIIlt"IIll~dErlhll:! •• rt.lI£'U1EDnIl i;"IiEI btl rDf'!"'?Y"nllli:l b)' 1162-~~1L ~1~!:r.JIHktl2llllr .. ~rJ

p' Zl..LJk.&.I,

t li<M>Jf~'_'


~Of ,~ •. 11.

o· ~.1oIod

~ cr II J:I~'-i:

~ \! r-.dln:c. 1:..p._

~""" ..II<.. .....

J~" 1""~

........... ~4 ..-.......! h a II<nt.ol ! oJ
-..I ~ . ~ <~.......,m . ~ ~ .• ,-.1 .,.
• _ ... I' oJL - ~ ~ l.lmlMl ~
<moOO'.!J'<lo<! ~ " -,~ t" d" I>O!o.IlooJ ~
l.6,:;oo!.ITJ!.ln!! ~ 1 .~1.:iJ1i11rtd ~ d' 0 i'!.'i:i~I~ d"
101""","", !,I .. ')!:£bluNi 1',.8· • ",,,,,,,mn.- "
......... ~ ..... t' JI 1tIirjI~.u£ihiIiiII'!j.p" d'
C~ ~, - "<IoN ..... _ ~ 18 How we make writi ng syste m 5: modern times

Mo!.twliling ~yslems wd:!.j1 show a deaf rel:!:UIO:ll:$hipb~tween the symbols Ind so-u ads Qf the language, and th~ ,aNthev~fo.re known as plloj'iolcgf",j' l}'St:em~ (p. 103). There aV(il two types. In ,a~JtI{aOic ~ystem. or syllab\ilry, eacllg.caphemQ .conesponds to a ~,p()~e]i[ sylhlble\ llslJa[ly iii consonantlOWel pair, such :liS ka (I~ do, Theset>1I'~t.e.m.s na:ve been found bo.m elJli.i.est times {e,g.. Mycenae,uil Gooekj, goti in modern Urnes c<ln be seen :!n Amlunl.c. Cherok~, ami! lapanese hina,. The l'J.llmOOr of graphemesm a ~.yllabllry vades - from around fifty to several hundl\oo.

Howewr, most modern writing 5ySten15 ate alpht.lbetit, With alpha~i~ wniting. t]iJ.e'J~is g d:i[e>cl correspondence between gmphemes ami phonemes. il.lld thi... mekas ]to the most economie and adaptable of all the wlit~ng ~y:srems. tnstead of several thousand logog[,~:ms, or several hundred sylllb.les. the' system needs only a relatively s.rn~.n numberof units, whit"h it then proves easyto adapt to a wide range .of languages, ~t alphabet;li, oO'JItam twentyro. tbirty r.ymho]s. but the total number de~llds on tile mrnplex:ity (IIf the' sound system... The smallest alphabet seems to be Rorok.aJS, used i:n the Solomon ]sllInds., with elevenletters,


In <IperfeeUy regular system. as in some off (he alphebets tn.:!.! have been dev.ised by linguists toreeord prif'viou:s]y unwritten la[lg~u.:ages. !here is one gil"apne'.m.e fur each pheneme. However. most 1IIph:!.bet:s in

present-day use fail to meet tbis crlterlon, to some degree" eitber b~llse the w['IUng system has not kept place with ehenges Lfl pronunciation, o-r becausetbe language is u.s,ing an alphabet not originally designed for Lt. Languages vary greatly in their graphemic/phonemic; regularity. At one

extreme we "find such languages as Spanish and Fmnfsh, 'which heve II

~ very regular system= at the other, 'we find such eaaes as .Eng1ish and Gaehc, Vi' here there ]s a marked degree of irregularity, The extent to which there is a lack of correspondence between graphemes lind phonemes is inevitably reflected in th-e number ofarbitrary 'spelling rules' thaI children have to learn (§20).

old ]j;\TIy Classl.Cc'll E~rly Modelll
P!lQenld~n i1e'birr!w Greek Gr,eoe,Ii; Etru~all T..:aJ:ln Rpmsn
f;. "l 4- A A ' ....... An
~ ~ 8 6 ~ Bb
1- 1 ...." ii '> <: cc
i;;. ~ ~ t;; 0 Dd
... 'I a E 3 e ~~
Y 1 ..:>., cD "'" "" rf
) \ Cg
'Ia. 11 8 H e H Hh
~ ~ I I II
~' "1- Ii
~, j '>I k: A I< Kt
t l 1 A J I.. u
, j ""1 r» ......, I"'" 101m
1 , '1 N '1 r./ Nn
0 ;) 0 0 0 o ()o
" '1 ""I; Til' .., r- J>p
,(Ii, f CD Q q Qq
'1 <\, <1. p 4 r Rr
._ "'" f z; 1 ? Ss
~ ," x T -r t .,.. 1't
Y Y V v Uu
)<;. )( XX
I Z. :1:1. fig. 12. Some alphabetic $}'sr~ms

G!1!~l Hd~tt\'l Anble
fmm name ('ytillK Kmn name form name
~~ ~lph8 Aa l!: "aleiPh, ·~lcl" 'alif
BP !JL1:~ b6 :. b!th ""'" h!il:
ry gamma H.~ J girruiJ ~ W
i!h delta fr , dln~h ~ ttLa:
~z ~'P~il{)n M ;'I hi!' E 11m
z.:; ~t~ E.e l vav,waw ~ hi
H,] aa & t ~<'l}':iIil t:: ~hIl:
E'9 th"!lll *:- n heth ~ d"iiu
II [{)~ Cla t.l ~'llth ~ db~~
b ~3!pp~ VII!Qti!il rod, yodh J rii
.... l !amM~ [~K :n ~h J ~y
~1~ mu _l!_1 ,- I§)rnEldh J' ~~rli
Ny nu .M.~ l)l!l' nl~ln .,; :sh~t'I
~ xl 1-111 ~T !1jun "'" ~~d
o~ omicron OG D s~metjl J '9:;'.:1
n~ pL nIT y 'ayin ~ \!i
Pp rho Pp !FI p~ J,;, ~
~r.;!; sigma Cc: If sade, ~adh~ t '~Yll
TT t~y. TF V q'riph t ~:fj'1l
~") ~lPsulon y~ ., ITsn .) tl
¢'l' phi (~$ ill ~lrI J q~r
)(1 chi.khi Xx 1li '5.b!itlJ ~ ~f
'l'lI PSj Uu n t~;t~ J lam
[k, Dmeg.a. '{~ ~ mim
mil, ;;, :nun
lUD~ h~
"b!, , w.~w
b:~ .;i y:a
fhl TIWiea.re~.lso mallY alphabets where only certam phonemes are tep~s~nted graphenucall y_ These are the mJlSml)(ill;tallillph~.bet~, such as iuamaie, Hebrew, and Ar-abic, where~he marking of vowels (U.llJng diau1l.1cs) is Qptional. There are also cases, such as the lIlphabet.s of J:nd:i<l, Irile.re dJactlUcs are used for vowels, but tile marking is obligatory. w]th ill~ dliluitics be'~ng attsehedtothe censonantal .. ~elteIlL

The ffilrliest known a1phabt¥t wa~ Ul(;! North SemHl.c, wllich developed OJolJll]d 1700 Be 11'1 Pale"sti:l1e: and Sy:rla., It consisted of lI'Lventy-two 0011- senant letters, rh~ Hebrocw, Mabie, and Ph.oel1icia[l.:dpllai:leEs were based on tIlj.~ medal, Then, a mUM 1000 I1C, the Pheenician alphabet W\1sitself


How we classify


.Sirwe the early days of gmm.m,:;) tiCillJ ~Hrdy, wards nave been gmuped ~1Ih classes, ~f .. dWOIi<lfjJ J.a !:felled the parts of speech. In most grammars, ~t&1I\ such classes We.Te leooglliCzed,. tllustrated here foomE:l'Igti~h=

OOWlS firP. J'JlCIpptl'l~S. Slla.nl pronourul she. ~hem. w/JO adjectives spi!1'ndfrt, thr:e(, SDft verbos arrive, ~. helve

~dvert<s jO.rt[.l!1(MeJy, soon. often p:repos~t1m!ls I'L oJ.iVUh ro:n~ull.cti()n:s and, as. if

tr.tt:ei1mtons ah., Q.rtM. wo IV

]n some systems. l?3JrUdp~~~ Vook~~g, w£:etl~ <I:IUd a:rtj;cl~s -(a, the) Wl!ro al:so Us~ as si;!para.tie cl .. sses,

Mod,,;m ap])iroll.Ches d~ss1fy words too, buetha use o:!'tbe lalbe1 wm4 d<!ss rather than f~n't I(JI~pe«h nl'p:re~enu a, cbaIlge In emphasi~. Mooe.rn

]i.fi,guist~ a:l'e reb'!~~s_llJt to U;SE: the noUollill d~finmoI1I:5 found lntraditienal

S grilm.l'm!:r- such as I3J nOl.ln being the 'mime of something'. The va,gue'm~ss of' these defin1t:ions has oIft:e'D been criticized, Is ,beau ty a 'thi:ng'? ls [Lot the adje(tive red also a 'nzme' -of a colourl To stlppie'm.ent de-finiHoru;· ws.ed on meani:mu:g, tl'ie[le lS now <I focy~ on the structural flli<ltuns that Mgnal. the way in whi.ch Stoups ofwortis Dehilvein iI hUli,gUilglf. in [[Iglisn.

for example, the definite or indefinite article is one criterion that can be useu to signal the presence of iI foHow![lg noun (the rot"): similerly, in Roma.:ntan" the article tuf} signals the presence of a preceding noun (aviorlu{ 'the plane'].

In languages which have a complex morpho,logy (p, 238), it is often ~ossib le to tell w hich class a word belongs W just by looking at its shape. Po particular kind of prefix .m.ightkleIlU:fy verbs; 11 particular kind of suffix mlghUdcn,W'Y nouns. English has only a Iewendtngs which are strongly associated with word classes in thisway: -ness, for example, is a noun SlItHX; ·[zoe ls a verb suffix, Most of the time, you cannot tell what class a wort! bel,on~s to ~imply by l.isb~ning to it or looklng at u-

Wben there Is no word-class marker, everything depends on how the wt)m 'behaves' in 11 sentence. RD'l.ma is a good tllustrettcn of this principle in "ction, for jt can belong to, any of five word classes, depending on the grammatlcal context,

• In the sentence M(irry bmlfjl'h,l' a j"ound :tQMe,it functions aJS an ildjet'tive, like red. big. uglY, 1Ind m.any more,

,0 In the sentence The (;at skidded r()twa the corner, it functions as a preposition, like into, past, near, and many more.

• Jn the sentence The y~dit wW ml1P1'.d the lnl'oy soon, it functions <1$, a verb, like pass, rea'en, hit. and many more,

'. tn, the sentence We walked fOumj' W' the shop, it functions as, an adverb, like quickly, happily. regularly, along with many more.

• [n the sentence It's your round, it Iuncttens as a noun, 'like tum. d1f:iHCt?, QI,ecision, and many more.

Mos! words are not l1ke ttl I s~ they belong to a. single class, But the opportunit.y is al \V'ays there for a word to take on additional functions, This Is the phenomenon of ccmverskm (p, :;\27t widely encountered In the history of Ellglish, as in these cases of neuns becoming verbs:

Jut, tll!t, i,ac@ me no grace, no,r uncle me no uncle (Shak~5pl!al'l!, .Richard f/} PetltiQll me no petitions (Henry fielding, Tom Thumb}

Dl~m~;u'Ul me no diamonds (I'e[lnyson, Idyll~ a/tile Krn9}


How we know

what someone is: the social issue

The Question 'What are you?' can also be answered with reference to our plate 11:1 society, We.acquh'e varying status as we parttcipata Insceial structure: we belong to many social groups; and we perform a large va riety of social roles.

Social class

One of the cbief'forms of sociolinguistic identity dertves from the way in which people are organized Jnto hierarchtcally ordered scdal groups, o:r classes. Classes arc aggregates of people with. slmllar social or economic cheracterisrtcs. They are complex notions, tn wh1d'l. factors such as. fam:ily lineage, rank" cccupsuon, education, and material possessions are all taken into account, And the way people talk (and, to a lesser extent, write) reflects. this backgrQund toa considerable extent, Both accent and dialect H4S) are implicated.

Ev,eryone has. developed a sense of values that make some accents seem 'posh'and others 'low', some features 0"1 vocabulary and g:rommar 'refined' and others 'uneducated'. The dist:lncUve features have been a. longstandl,n_g source of comment, as this conversation illustrates. It is between Clare and. Pinny Cherrel, in [ohn Galswo'l'"t1~y'sMflid in Wairi,ng (19:3;1,Ch _ _'l'I), and it illustrates a famous linguistic signal of social class in Britain - the two prouundanons of final ng in such words as nm niff9., [n] and [I)].

Whe'fe' on e'llrllb dtd AmM :Em i.ean1l t~} drop berg's?'

·.Fa~henold. me once that she w~u at a s&!.M! w!l:i[!"~ta.n lmd~D)pped Nt' W<!~ W(l,rSle than a dropped "h", '!rltey were hringiil' in '" roun~ry f<l5i1iQn then. huntin.'people, you DOW.'

Th~.~ e:;:;OImple ilIUSUa:~e:s wry well tile 3i[iJ<itn!!ry way in which ]ing!Ji.:s~if d:3JSS markers work, The [n] varia]!t is typkal of much working-class speeeh today, but a century .'i'go' thls ptoIJJuI1claticl[I was a desirable feature (If speech to the u]l'pe:1" mi.ddlle dilss and! above - and. may sHU. oc.rnsiomlly be liite .. ffi there. 1M change to ~.IJ] 'came aboet under the illfluence of the wnUeIll. form; there WlIS a 9 i:n~he spelling, and it. was flelt (in the late 19th century) that it was more 'correct' to proru::mI1l.re H,. As a result; 'drappi!lJl Ule {l ln due course became' st~i'l;mlillUz.edi.

P:r,db<lbJy the dearest examples ofsocial dilllects are these associated w-.ith 11 ca ste system. [a.stes are social di.VlSiolls based solely on binh, w!:i:i{-h totany restrict a person's: way of life - for example, allowlng only certain ktnds 'OF job. or eerl:ai:[1 marriage partners. A wen-known slrolDe:rn is that ef Hindu soc-iety ][1 India, whtch has four r1I:oi.n dil!'ision1l, andmany suhd:iv.isio'fls - though in recentyears. the elute barnees have beentess rigidly enforced. '[he Brahnnns (pr1i.e;g;ts) constitute the hiigpest class; below them in descending order. are' the Kshatr:iiyas 'waHior~t Vaisyas (farmers and merchants). and Slu:bas (senrani!)~)_ The so-eajled ·u.lliwueha:bl~s·, whos.e coruaetwtth the other canes is hIghly restricted, are Uw lowest l~ver of the SuJra caste, .Phonology, ~xarlImar, and, vo-cabula:ry all combine. to prcduee linguistic cerselates 0.1i caste.

Soda I sta nd ing

Sf£l,w$ is the positIon a person holds 1rI Ul~ :rocia~ struct!.m': o.f aJ oomtln.U1ut.y

o - such as a priest an offLdal,a w]fe. Or a husband, Roles .m~ the QO[JJwn-


Uonal modes of be'haviou.f that sociely expects iI person to adopt when ho1d:lng a particular status, Publle roles oftell bave fu],[T1llil. ml'llk.ers ilS5(lCLatiOO with them. such as, un1forms; btU am.ong the chief markers ali' ~odlll pestnon is undou.btedl~y .Ianguage, Peorle ~e.rdse several roles, they have

How la nguages die

Alangl;l ~ge dies @nly wben the last person who speaks it dtes, Or perhaps it dies when the seeond-last Ife~s>on who speakZli~ dies. forthen there is no one len to tan:. to.

There ls Mth:lng. unusual aoout 4ir.I.ngle bngll.age dying.. Communi· ties have comeand g,mte tluOUigltout Wstoty, and w1th them lh~j r la '" gl.1~ge. Hiutte, for example, died out when Its civilization ~;U.S<lp~aroj I~ o.ld Testament times. Il·lit Wh01~ b happ~n1ngcoday ts ~"l{"tra'm:llna.ry, j uO$ed. by t.he standards oHhe past It is langu..age I!xtincUon on a m~sil!f scala Of U\te 61000 0.[ ~olangl.lages tn Ute v,,'ofld .about lt~]( are gQi o,g t{l die out in the eourse of thepresent ceJiIUuy; 3.,000 languages. In !,lOeI months .. Tha;~ means, on average.there ~ ilJ langusge dying out som~wh~rt inthe wodd eve])' two weeks or so.

How do we kno·w~ In the course of the past two or tluee deCilde:s. linguists an over the world have been gatnedng com.paTIlU'Ie d~'l<l. IT tlle)' f.ind! iii language with just a few speakers iefl:, and nobody Is bot:lJering to pass the lallg,u...lfie on to the children. obviously ·~blllt l;;mgllag-e is bound 10 die out !100rL And we have to draw the same conclusren if iI language has ]~5~ than lOO speakers. U i s not likely to .11Ist veIY long, A 1999 SUTI'<')' shewedthat 96% of~lle world's Ianguages are spoken by just 4% of the peeple, No wonders;o nU:IJJji' are ill dllnge:r_

Data oomp~.led by tile Summer [nstiitute of ljnguistics in 1999 rerogntzed 6,734 languages, with data available for 6.060, There were Sl lao-

gu.ages w1th jmt one speaker left - .2& orf' them ill Austrn~.]l1 alone. There W~re !!Iearly 500 langlllig~5 in theworld with Less than 100' speakers; 1,500 with less than 1,000. and a staggering S,oc()O languages with less than 100.000.

Why 50 many?

Why are so many languages dying~ The reasons ra~e from natural dlsasters, through different forms af cultural ass1milaUon,to genocide, Smiio]] eemmunmesm isolated areas can easily be declmated or wiped out by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, an.d ether catac1y;s~, A habitat mayberome unsurvivable through l,lrul'avourab]e cnmanc and ecenomie 00[1- ditions - famine and draught espeda1ly, communtues can die tbrough imported disease - from small pox to tile common wid. and €:lip€ciaHy, tHtese days, AIDS .. Cultural asslmtlarlen Is an even bigger threat. Much of the presenr crtsis stems from the major cultural movements which began sec y~a:rs ago. as coJonialif>m spread iI small number of dominant lan~Ila.ges, such as English, Srani~h. Portuguese, and French, around the wofJd.

When on~ culture assimilates ttl' another, the sequence of events af{cctingthe endangered langl.tl1g:e seem to be the same everywhere. There are ~hree broad! st<!Jg.e~. The first isimmense pr,eS5U[e 011 the people to apeak the dominant language - pressme that can rome from polnical, social, or economlc sources. It might be 'top down', in the form. of tneonti~es. recommendations, or laws introduced by a government or natlonal bod}'; Or it might be 'bottom up', ill the form. offashionable trends or ,,~er group pressures from within the society of which they form a part; 01' i!'galn. It might have [10 dear direction, ernergmg as the re~l]~t of an Interaetlon between eoclcpoltttcal and socicecenomic factors that are only partly reeognlzed and understood. '10 achieve a better quality of life' is a commonly stated reason why someone decides to lcsrn the dominant language,

But wherever the-pressure has come from" the 1\e'5UJt - stage two - is a perjod of emerging bihngualism, as peDpl~ become- increa:sJng1y emcient

"Theperfect one-volurneirrtroducrion to the' study of langu.age' Guar;dian

What's in a name? How do sounds become .speech? What makes a word tude or polit,c: Is it possible to speak out IOf tune? How do we Iearnto re~d?

These and hundreds of other questions are answered in David Crystal's brilliant tour thfOugh the fascinating world of language. From eyebrow flashes to whistling languages, fmm baby talk to why the grocer's apostrophe isn't .sUdl a bad thing after all, How LlluW'lageWork$ sheds light on [he endless mysteries of the language we speak, write and read every day,

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David C;'5M! lit StoFifS

.... .lErl!.1ljs~


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