David Crystal

British linguist and writer

David Crystal OBE FBA FLSW (born 6 July 1941) is a British linguist, academic, and author.

David Crystal, 2004


  • There is little scientific data on the point, but evidently people do speak to themselves.
    • David Crystal, "Refining stylistic discourse categories," In: G. Melchers & B. Warren (eds), English linguistics in honour of Magnus Ljung (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1994), 35-46
  • Joke exchanges are carried on in deadly earnest, like a verbal duel-mouth-to-mouth combat. Bang, bang: you’re (linguistically) dead.
    • David Crystal, Language Play, University of Chicago Press, 1998
  • I believe that any form of writing exercise is good for you. I also believe that any form of tuition which helps develop your awareness of the different properties, styles, and effects of writing is good for you. It helps you become a better reader, more sensitive to nuance, and a better writer, more sensitive to audience. Texting language is no different from other innovative forms of written expression that have emerged in the past. It is a type of language whose communicative strengths and weaknesses need to be appreciated.
    • David Crystal, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, OUP Oxford, 2009. p. 128
  • The story of the English writing system is so intriguing, and the histories behind individual words so fascinating, that anyone who dares to treat spelling as an adventure will find the journey rewarding.
    • David Crystal. Spell It Out: The singular story of English spelling. 2012. p. 277-8

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 1987Edit

David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1987, 2nd ed. 1995; 2004.

  • The question “Why do we use language?” seems hardly to require an answer. But, as is often the way with linguistic questions, our everyday familiarity with speech and writing can make it difficult to appreciate the complexity of the skills, we have learned. This is particularly so when we try to define the range of functions to which language can be put.
    • p. 10
  • Language may not determine the way we think, but it does influence the way we perceive and remember, and it affects the ease with which we perform mental tasks.
    • p. 15
  • The subject matter ranges from subtle forms of intellectual sarcasm and humor to the crudest possible attacks on a person's courage, sexual prowess, or relatives. At one level, attacks may be subtle and indirect, involving allusion and figurative speech; at another, there may be explicit taunts, boasts, name calling, and jokes at the other's expense.
    • p. 60
  • There are the many daily examples of taboo speech, usually profanities or obscenities, that express such emotions as hatred, antagonism, frustration, and surprise. The most common utterances consist of single words or short phrases (though lengthy sequences may

occur in 'accomplished' swearers), conveying different levels of intensity and attracting different degrees of social sanction.

    • p. 61
  • The aim of linguistics is to go beyond the study of individual languages to determine what the universal properties of language are, and to establish a ‘universal grammar’ that would account for the range of linguistic variation that is humanly possible.
    • p. 84
  • Pragmatics studies the factors that govern our choice of language in social interaction and the effects of our choice on others.
    • p. 120
  • The structural properties of the language are many and complex, but at least they are finite and fairly easy to identify: there are only so many sounds, letters, and grammatical constructions, and although there is a huge vocabulary, at least the units are determinate and manageable.
    • p. 286
  • The main metaphor that is used to explain the historical relationship is that of the language family or family tree.
    • p. 292
  • The structural closeness of languages to each other has often been thought to be an important factor in FLL (foreign language learning). If the L2 [the foreign language] is structurally similar to the L1 [the original language], it is claimed, learning should be easier than in cases where the L2 is very different. However, it is not possible to correlate linguistic difference and learning difficulty in any straightforward way, and even the basic task of quantifying linguistic difference proves to be highly complex, because of the many variables involved.
    • p. 371
  • Micro computers used as word processors complement the audio facilities, enabling the interactive teaching of all four language skills reading, listening, speaking and writing.
    • p. 377
  • Fluency [is] smooth, rapid, effortless use of language.
    • p. 421

How Language Works, 2007Edit

David Crystal (2007), How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die,

  • For a language is really alive only as long as there is someone to speak it to. When you are the only one left, your knowledge of your language is like a repository, or archive, of your people’s spoken linguistic past. If the language has never been written down, or recorded on tape—and there are still many which have not—it is all there is. But, unlike the normal idea of an archive, which continues to exist long after the archivist is dead, the moment the last speaker of an unwritten or unrecorded language dies, the archive disappears for ever. When a language dies which has never been recorded in some way, it is as if it has never been.
    • p. 2
  • A language is said to be dead when no one speaks it any more. It may continue to have existence in a recorded form, of course-traditionally in writing, more recently as part of a sound or video archive (and it does in a sense `live on’ in this way) – but unless it has fluent speakers one would not talk of it as a `living language’. And as speakers cannot demonstrate their fluency if they have no one to talk to, a language is effectively dead when there is only one speaker left, with no member of the younger generation interested in learning it. But what do we say if there are two speakers left, or 20, or 200? How many speakers guarantee life for a language?
    • p. 11
  • A dictionary is a reference book that lists the words of one or more languages, usually in alphabetical order, along with information about their spelling, pronunciation, grammatical status, meaning, history, and use.
    • p. 108
  • Language death is a terrible loss, to all who come into contact with it: `Facing the loss of language or culture involves the same stages of grief that one experiences in the process of death and dying.”‘ We do not have to be members of an endangered community to sense this grief, or respond to it. Anyone who has worked with these communities, even over a short period, knows that it is a genuine insight, well justifying the dramatic nature of the analogy. And it is this keen, shared sense of loss which fuels the motivation and commitment of linguists, community groups, and support organizations in many parts of the world.
    • p. 216
  • The growth in linguistic awareness about the problem, and the emergence of an associated activism, was one of the most exciting developments of the 1990s. Although awareness is still poor among the general public, the issues are now being much more widely discussed at professional levels, in a variety of international, national, regional, and local contexts. At one extreme, there are major campaigns such as those involved in promulgating the Barcelona Declaration of Linguistic Rights, or such initiatives as the `Red Book on Endangered Languages’ (part of the Tokyo Clearing House project). At the other extreme, there is lively debate taking place within many of the endangered communities themselves. Mechanisms and structures are now in place to channel energies.
    • p. 216-7
  • Language death is like no other form of disappearance. When people die, they leave signs of their presence in the world, in the form of their dwelling places, burial mounds, and artefacts - in a word, their archaeology. But spoken language leaves no archaeology. When a language dies, which has never been recorded, it is as if it has never been.
    • p. 342
  • However language began, one thing is certain – it immediately began to change, and has been changing ever since. Languages are always in a state of flux. Change affects the way people speak as inevitably as it does any other area of human life. Language purists do not welcome it, but they can do very little about it. Language would stand still only if society did. A world of unchanging linguistic excellence, based on the brilliance of earlier literary forms, exists only in fantasy. The only languages that do not change are dead ones.
    • p. 357
  • During the later part of the 19th century, it was believed that a sound of change affected the whole of a language simultaneously: one sound system would smoothly develop into the next, and all words which contained a particular sound would be affected in the same way.
    • p. 359
  • We now know that linguistic change does not operate in such an across-the-board manner. Some speakers introduce the change into their speech before others; some use it more frequently and consistently than others; and some words are affected before others. A more accurate view is to think of a change gradually spreading through the words of a language – a view that is known as a lexical diffusion. At first just a few people use a change sporadically in a few words (commonly occurring words are influenced very quickly); then a large number of words are affected, with the sound gradually being used more consistently; then the majority of the words take up the change.
    • p. 359

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