Just a Phrase I'm Going Through
My Life in Language
Routledge, 2009 2009
In an enormously prolific writing and editing career, David Crystal has excelled in supplying volumes hitherto missing from the field: here a balanced and accessible introduction to general linguistics, there a lucid specialised textbook in an emerging field. With this memoir, Just a Phrase I’m Going Through: My Life in Language (Routledge, 2009), he fills another gap, and offers a vivid picture of the working life of a professional linguist.
The book follows Crystal’s career across an enormous range of linguistic disciplines, from English usage through clinical linguistics and on into semantic Web indexing. It also describes the many other channels along which Crystal’s enthusiasm for language has run – reconstructing the speech sounds of Shakespeare for the stage, presenting the case for endangered languages, and doing battle with the forces of ‘linguistic purism’ on the radio.
I talk with Crystal about his motivation for writing a memoir, the challenges of applied linguistics, and the unpredictable future of language and its study. Along the way, I learn how to sell parts of speech to a shoe merchant, how not to sell knives to internet users, and why we won’t be seeing a Broadway musical on the topic of language death.