The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language

by David Crystal (Cambridge University Press, 3rd edition 2010): 524pp, £25.19 (pbk), ISBN 978 0 521 73650 3.

Reviewed by Michèle Clarke

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Is David Crystal in a different time zone to me? I thought I'd fitted in quite a lot in my life, but David seems to have a Tardis-like existence – he packs much more into a small space than is usually or humanly possible. Book writing is one such aspect of his full life (100 or so volumes!).

Well updated

The second edition of this book was published in 1997 and we reviewed it in our Newsletter no. 57. When I received this one, I nearly mixed it up with another book on my shelves: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, also by David Crystal and an equally lovely publication.

The organisation and layout of this encyclopedia are in the familiar format, but well updated to include colour in the tables, boxes and artwork, and more use of the marginal comment. I think the font size has been marginally downsized, which is a pity in this day and age of inclusiveness of age and poor sight, but it does look 'cleaner' overall.

Beautiful and browsable

According to David's new preface, the book has been updated to include 'endangered languages, with associated extra material on language typology and diversity ... and a new ... section presenting electronically mediated communication'. Other areas that had to be revised were phonetics, speech recognition, neurolinguistics, language teaching, pidgins and creoles, sign languages, census data and demographics.

It's a beautiful book and one that should be on our shelves. But it will more likely be found on our coffee tables as it's something to be dipped into again and again. The marginal offerings alone can be read easily over a cuppa. Browsing, however, makes me realise that, as the caption to a cartoon in the 'Grammar' chapter says, 'I miss the good old days when all we had to worry about was nouns and verbs.'

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