Why Is This a Question?

Paul Anthony Jones (Elliott & Thompson, 2022), 320pp, £14.99 (hbk)
ISBN 978 1 783 96664 6

Reviewed by Kate Blackham

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The blurb for ‘Why is this a question?’ says that it answers ‘all the questions you’ve never thought to ask’ about human language. Among an audience such as ours of professional copyeditors and proofreaders there are no doubt a fair few questions that we have all scratched our heads over during the course of our careers, but this is a fun and very educational read nevertheless.

The book is written by Paul Anthony Jones whose childhood present of a dictionary (which he read cover to cover!?) set him off on a path to study linguistics at university. Deciding against the academic pathway he turned instead to linguistics outreach and now shares his love of language with the general public via his blog at HaggardHawks.com, Twitter (@HaggardHawks) and seven previous books. In ‘Why is this a question?’ Paul covers all aspects of linguistics and language – from what words and languages are and where languages came from in the beginning, through to how we speak and read. In reading this book you’ll be given an introduction to anthropology, history, biology and neuroscience as they apply to languages and their learning.

Each of the 20 short chapters is easily read in a short sitting – ideal for a coffee break dip for a busy editor – and yet packed with information. As a science editor my educational background is entirely devoid of formal language training so it was fascinating to learn, for example, that many double letter spellings were deliberately introduced in Middle English to signal that the preceding vowel was short, or that our letter A is actually a simplified Egyptian hieroglyph.

Chapter 14 is about word play and riddles. Here, on page 189, Paul announces that hidden within the pages of the book there is a pangram – a sentence that includes all 26 letters of the alphabet, eg The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. I’m afraid on first reading I didn’t spot it, so I look forward to rereading this book to find it.

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