When you stop and think about pronunciation it’s very easy to break into a verse of “You sing potato and I sing potahto.” The academic, linguist, author and broadcaster, David Crystal certainly appreciates this. He has after all released the informative and scholarly guide: Sounds Appealing: The Passionate Story of English Pronunciation.
Over the years Crystal has written many books. This latest one, devoted to pronunciation, is the fifth in a series where he examines the different facets of the English language, for example: spelling, grammar and punctuation. It’s clear as crystal (sorry, I couldn’t resist) that this man has a love of the English language, as well as its history and etymology.
Communication can be an interesting beast. It’s often not so much about what we’re saying, but how we actually say it. Using different inflections and emphasising different words, or elements of words, can change their meaning. In this book, Crystal uses the example of a woman who goes to see the doctor about her husband because the latter is impotent. However, the two experience a communication breakdown, because the way she pronounces the word makes the Doctor initially believe that she is saying her partner is important!
This book is very UK-centric in its examples and does get very technical at times. It uses the phonetic alphabet and spelling but for those unacquainted with, or unaccustomed to reading such things, it can make for some difficult reading. This is especially the case when Crystal is making a point on a subtlety in a particular accent. This text would perhaps actually work better as an audiobook, that way Crystal could have made his points and known that the reader would truly get it. As it stands, Crystal does his best with the medium he is operating in, by offering up lots of examples and anecdotes. He breaks things down into short chapters and reinforces the knowledge he is conveying with quizzes.
It is fascinating to read about how physiology plays its part in shaping our accents. Crystal describes human anatomy and the interplay between our lips, tongue, teeth, vocal chords and palate in shaping our words. It’s incredible that the final product – our accents – can convey aspects of our identity like where we come from, our class and level of education, etc. One need look no further than My Fair Lady and witness the change in Eliza Doolittle to see and appreciate this in action.
Sounds Appealing is an interesting work for those most passionate about the English language. It will make you stop and think about accents and we can guarantee you won’t look at words in quite the same way ever again. In Sounds Appealing, David Crystal is a learned and passionate guide through some tricky subject matters and he leaves readers with a newfound knowledge and appreciation of the great and ever-evolving English language.
David Crystal’s Sounds Appealing is available now through Profile Books.