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Book Review: Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar by David Crystal

Crystal against crystallization

by James Harbeck

(Oxford University Press, 2017) MAKING SENSE

How can we have crystal-clear language spoken by people with a crystal-clear understanding of how it works? For one thing, don’t try to crystallize it—just Crystal-ize. Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, by David Crystal, is for anyone who wants to get Crystal clarity on the function and uses of English. Crystal is a world-renowned British linguist, academic, and author. He is one of the leading lights of popularizing linguistic understanding; he has written, co-written, or edited more than 120 books, including the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, The Stories of English, Language and the Internet, and, most recently, a series of books beginning with Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling, continuing with Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation, and now adding Making Sense, which gives us what is effectively an introductory course in English linguistics—syntax, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, and history—written for people who want something readable and usable. And he adds some extra details that you’re more likely to get in a course in effective writing.

It can be difficult to review a book that has nothing wrong with it. Honestly, in real life I would normally just say, “If you’re interested in grammar, read this book; if your work in any way involves grammar—and of course it does—read this book; even if you know a lot about grammar already, it will still be worth your time.” But let me give you some more details so you know why I’m recommending it. (more…)

The Nitpicker’s Nook: December’s linguistic links roundup

The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, and blog posts. If you read something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected].

The Nitpicker's Nook, Carol Harrison
By Carol Harrison

’Tis the season for giving or gifting?: The Atlantic’s Megan Garber argues against gifting.

Hey, girl! The analytics website FiveThirtyEight crunches the numbers about why so many girls are in book titles.

In this short interview, The Book Wars talks to Inhabit Media’s Kelly Ward about translating First Peoples’ languages into English.

The Chicago Manual of Style’s Word Usage Workout is an online quiz worth your time! Sadly, however, you won’t learn who you were in a past life.

Grappling for words: the language of wrestling. I don’t know about you, but I intend to wrangle a few of these into my daily conversations.

Author–editor lurve: interviews from Quill & Quire.

Ah, yes Down East: according to the Language Portal of Canada, Atlantic Canadians have a distinct way with the affirmative.

The meaning of meme: want to incite a flame war on Facebook? Read>Play>Edit’s Jamie Chavez provides the ammunition!

Carol Harrison is editor-in-chief of BoldFace and freelance editor and writer at Muse Ink. When she isn’t focusing on words, she’s focusing her Nikon D3200.

This article was copy edited by Larysa Kormikeva.

The importance of language as shown by ancient Maya civilization

Maya Code

By Samita Sarkar

Recently, I watched an informative PBS documentary about the history of the Maya language called Cracking the Maya Code (watch it online here). Much like the other indigenous civilizations of the Americas that encountered Europeans hundreds of years ago, the Maya experienced cultural and linguistic oppression at the hands of Spanish colonizers. Under the sixteenth-century Spanish inquisition, the Maya were tortured or killed for engaging in “superstitious” behaviour, such as writing in their language or worshipping their gods. A zealous friar, Diego de Landa, made it his mission to destroy Maya hieroglyphs, seeing them as tools of the devil. He sanctioned the mass burning of hundreds to thousands of Maya books—the exact number will never be known.

To us editors, the act of burning countless ancient texts seems worse than blasphemy, but to the mercurial Friar de Landa, it was a powerful method of oppression. And it worked—by the eighteenth century, there was no one left who could read or write Maya.

Only a handful of Maya books survived, and they resurfaced in the late 1880s. Linguists tried for decades to crack the Maya code using only a few books and glyphs carved into ancient Maya pyramids. Written Maya had a script of 800 symbols, and it was taken for granted that these were logographs and not phonetic letters.