04/07/2013 07:23 BST | Updated 02/09/2013 06:12 BST

Celebrating Linguistic Creativity

The ability to write in an engaging, enticing and encouraging manner is an art. The question has always been crucial in academic writing. Of course, academic writing should be exempt from everyday patterns of usage and should have a distinct style. Yet the distinctness is sometimes taken to the extreme where the obscurity of writing hinders immediate comprehension. Hence, academic books are often intelligible only to a specialist readership.

The recent decades, however, have witnessed an increase in the publication of popular books on academic subjects. "Popular" does not, of course, mean "shallow" or something. A book can be in effect an in-depth academic research but written in a style that will attract wider audiences other than fellow academics. A great book that comes to mind is Ewan Fernie's The Demonic: Literature and Experience, recently published by Routledge. Here the author discusses deep philosophical and literary issues in a highly dynamic, infectious and reader-absorbing style.

On language topic, David Crystal has been pioneering in his successful efforts to popularise Linguistics as a sexy subject. And sexy it is indeed! Language is one of the most creative dimensions in human life. Ronald Carter'sLanguage and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk, published by Routledge, discusses exactly this - the linguistic creativity we humans engage in on a daily basis.


It is a greatly useful book written in a reader-friendly, personal (vs. impersonal as typical of academic writing) and stimulating style. The author comments on the processes of language manipulation we enjoy daily.

Needless to say, language play is the brightest manifestation of language creativity. Language play is often identified with pun. But puns, of course, are not the only way of playing with words. From crossword puzzles through tongue-twisters to more subtle plays applied by the literary minds - these are all language play. Looking into the mosaic world of language play, a question always arises as to why we care to play with language, what the psychological stimulators, the social and pragmatic factors acting as a drive for engaging in language play are. Carter views language and creativity from various perspectives - psychological biological, sociocultural, biographical, psychodynamic, practical, pragmatic etc.

Huizinga has famously talked of homo ludens in parallel with homo sapiens. (Ludic derives from Latin ludere - to play.) This is so true. Carter expands on Huizinga's concept to reveal the significance of our ludic skills. Linguistic creativity is our innate ability to manipulate, exploit and play with language. We all play with language - it is a natural way of using language. Here the aim is not to communicate information as such which is the main function of language - but communicate affinity, warmth and resonance. And Carter brilliantly shows how intonation, situation, extralinguistic circumstances and the potential of personal linguistic creativity can be the means and factors for playing with language. The author also dwells on the works of other linguists whose books on language play have been fundamental, like David Crystal and Guy Cook.

Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk is a very useful book for language students as well as anyone interested in reading about the vast dimension of our inborn linguistic creativity. As I noted above, Carter writes in a reader-friendly style and an enjoyment of the book is guaranteed.

You can obtain a copy via Routledge or other stores.