Language Play

David Crystal

Penguin 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 1999
The first part of Language Play is a survey of playful language — in ordinary conversation, by enthusiasts such as crossword solvers, and by professionals such as advertisers and comedians. It ranges over the whole gamut of language, written and spoken: rhymes and puns, visual and typographical gags, lipograms and acrostics and other feats of construction, games, literary works, and so on. Examples take up most of the space and, though he explains individual forms, Crystal doesn't really present any general thesis (other than the argument by demonstration for the ubiquity of language play). I enjoyed this material more as a kind of multi-modal "joke" book than for any new insight into language.

I found the second part of Language Play more interesting. Here Crystal turns to children, describing how their use of language play passes through well-defined stages, forming an integral part of language development more generally. He then argues that language teaching has failed to acknowledge the importance of play for children, documenting its rarity until recently in readers and textbooks: it should, he suggests, be given formal recognition in curriculum and syllabus design. A very brief concluding chapter touches on connections with the evolution of language.

July 1999

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%T Language Play
%A Crystal, David
%I Penguin
%D 1998
%O paperback, notes, index
%G ISBN 0140273859
%P x,249pp