Book review: The Gift Of The Gab: How Eloquence Works

DAVID CRYSTAL is probably Britain’s best-known populariser of linguistic science.

His style is down-to-earth and lucid, and his evidence-based descriptivism is a beacon of common sense in a world of green-ink grammarians and self-appointed usage experts.

Unfortunately, this study of ‘how eloquence works’ — what it is and how to achieve it — comes across as a rather thin blend of anecdote, basic practical tips and only isolated nuggets of real interest.

The book gets more into its stride when Crystal comes to less obvious topics where his linguistic insights add real value, such as in his discussion of pitch, rate and rhythm, the end-weight principle and order of mention; there’s also an absorbingly detailed analysis of Obama’s celebrated ‘Yes we can’ speech.

In this book, as in some of Crystal’s others, you can’t help wishing he wore his learning a little less lightly.

David Crystal

Yale University Press, €19.45; ebook, €12.94


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