Since The Story of English in 100 Words came out in 2011, I’ve been giving talks based upon it to literary festivals. The idea was to choose 100 words, each of which represented a strand in the history of the English language. The hope was that, jigsaw-like, at the end of the book the reader would have gained a perspective on English vocabulary as a whole. But you can never satisfy a litfest audience. And after almost every talk, someone asks me: ‘What would be your 101st word?’
It would have to be perspective. I’ve been in love with this word for the whole of my academic life. My first academic article, in 1963, was called ‘A perspective for paralanguage’. The next year I wrote one called ‘A liturgical language in a linguistic perspective’. And there was a time when I played a game with myself, ensuring that everything I wrote contained the word somewhere or other. A 1966 paper, ‘The linguistic status of prosodic and paralinguistic features’, doesn’t have it in the title, but it’s there, at the beginning of the third paragraph. No book passed from my paws without the word being used at least once.
Fast forward 40 years, and things haven’t changed a bit. It’s the last word in the preface of my Txtng (2008). It turns up over 20 times in my autobiographical memoir, Just a Phrase I’m Going Through (2009). It’s in the prologue to Begat (2010). Chapter 1 of my Internet Linguistics is called ‘Linguistic perspectives’. It’s in the preface to The Story of English in 100 Words, and I use it four times in my introduction to the latest book, Spell it Out (2012). If a computer were to carry out a stylometric study of the lexicon of my oeuvre, perspective would rank abnormally high.
And, I suppose, if somebody were to ask me to sum up my approach to language and linguistics over the years, in a single word, that is how I would answer: to provide perspective …
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About David Crystal
David Crystal is writer, editor, lecturer, broadcaster and blogger. Professor Crystal’s most recent book, Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling, was published in September 2012 by Profile Books.