First things first… David Crystal is a legend.
Don’t argue with me. He just is.
His studies into language, particularly into texting are incredibly interesting (Oh, how I hate that word) and it turns out he’s a pretty funny man too.
I went to see him give a talk to promote his news book, A Little Book of Language, at Foyles on Charing Cross Road this evening. He spoke for just over an hour, with the final fifteen minutes being in the Q&A format that’s common at these type of events. Myself, my friend and sister were the youngest in the room, with the rest being a mixture of a few students, a couple of older fans and the majority looked to be teacher-aged.
The book, which I felt obliged to buy afterwards, has been written in a way that is supposed to be comprehendible for a twelve year old, but not too simplistic. Having read the first chapter, Baby-Talk (Yes, he called it Baby-Talk – Not CDS or motherese or… Caregiver language!), I can assure you that it’s by no means to simplistic as I found it detailed enough to learn something new.
I shall probably tell you more about the book itself once I have read it all, but for now I shall leave you with a few anecdotes from the evening.
At one stage a customer service announcement came over the speaker system.
“David, Svetlanka is here to see you at the Customer Service Desk” the voiceover lady announced.
“Oh no, that wasn’t meant to happen… My wife is here… She’s not meant to know about Svetlanka…” Crystal responded instantaneously in his jovial fashion. He’s obviously a highly respected academic, yet he seemed very down to earth with a great sense of humour.
On the academic front, he spoke of CDS (though still calling it ‘Baby-Talk’) and how the subject within an utterance will always come at the beginning and won’t be too long. He used examples, interacting with the audience to prove points. He talked about the active and passive tense, and previous studies that he’s conducted to show why the former is used far more frequently in texts for young children.
This stuff interests me. I told him so myself. I used that dreaded word, “interesting”, when I spoke to him. Whilst he signed my book (Yes, I told you I’m a die-hard fan) I said to him “I find your studies really interesting”. And for once, I genuinely do mean ‘interesting’. His work, particularly his studies into Text Messaging, does interest me.
I love how he doesn’t believe that texting is “raping” the English Language. His descriptivist attitude to language is inspirational. He is nothing short of a legend.
A Little Book of Language, Yale University Press, is out now in Hardbook for £14.99