There is A Little Book of Language, by David Crystal, that tells a history of words and language, how we learn, distinguish, and develop our very sense of self through what we say and read. Everything from ancient and dying languages to text-messaging is briskly covered in this readable volume. The short and wide-ranging chapters are perfect for story-time, detox reading, and discovering something new on every page.
For instance, did you know?:
• The @ symbol was first used in email by Ray Tomlinson, an American computer engineer, in 1971, when he sent the first e-mail. We call it the “at sign” in English, but it’s called “malpa” in Poland (the word “monkey), “sobaka” in Russia (“dog”), and “papaka” in Greece (“duckling”).
• Americans are familiar with “textisms” like “l8r” and “lol.” In other languages, textisms include “mr6” (French, “merci”); “salu2” (Spanish, “saludos”); and “8ung” (German, “achtung”).
• Babies can hear things in the womb before they’re born and recognize their mother’s voice within a few hours of birth.
• There are approximately 6,000 languages in the world. But they are rapidly dying out in several parts of the world, as fast as one every few weeks.
• A dictionary of about 1,500 pages has about 100,000 words in it.
• Though in many places bilingualism is a political issue, about three-quarters of the human race grows up speaking two or more languages.