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Punctuation & Spelling

Dicembre 2013
Il linguista David Crystal ci parla del libro Eats, Shoots & Leaves di Lynne Truss, un best seller molto particolare, dato che l’argomento principale è... la punteggiatura!

di Mark Worden


Eats, Shoots and Leaves
Eats, Shoots and Leaves
David Crystal
David Crystal

Speaker: Mark Worden (Standard British accent)

Linguist David Crystal talks about Lynne Truss’ unlikely best seller Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which was published 10 years ago:

David Crystal (Standard British accent)

Books about spelling and punctuation traditionally have never been successful, not that there have been very many of them, but the ones I used to read when I was an undergraduate, they were dry as dust and very historical and, not surprisingly, they never achieved much of a sale: you’d get them on library shelves and that’s about it. So when Lynne Truss comes along and does Eats, Shoots & Leaves, I was involved in that, in that I was the consultant for her radio series – it was a Radio 4 series before it became a book – and I was her guest at one point, too, and as the series was over, we were recording the last of her programmes in, actually my son’s flat down in London, and I turned to her and said... and she was asking, you know, what she might do, she (was) fascinated with this new... new subject that she’d been exploring, and she said she thought she might write a book on it, and I said to her – the stupidest thing I’ve ever said in my linguistic life, which is: “I wouldn’t bother, Lynne, books on punctuation never sell!” So what do I know? Because, of course, it sold millions, and because she has this lovely, elegant, humorous style. It was never a book that would solve your problems with punctuation; there can be no such book, punctuation is too complicated for that, but she put the subject over in an elegant way, but in a way which was to some extent a pastiche of the subject, and of the history of the subject. So I ended up writing a counterblast to it called The Fight for English: How English language pundits ate, shot and left, but it only sold a fraction of the copies that Lynne’s book sold, so I’m very aggrieved about that, but there we are, that’s life! So, anyway, it... it led to an interest in my part in the writing system and ultimately to my writing Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling, which is a book that I was always scared of writing because there is so much of English spelling that one has to cover, but I eventually ended up being able to do it, thanks to the Oxford English Dictionary coming online and making so much data available, and a couple of very useful surveys that had taken place of the spelling system in the last few years, but I wasn’t expecting it to be a best seller, and it turned out to be.


So how are relations with Lynne Truss today?

David Crystal

I didn’t see her for a long time after the book came out, but we did once meet at the literary festival in... in Bath, and we sort of were slightly uncomfortable with each other, I think, but the point is, you see, that I’m a professional linguist, my entire life is devoted to language: she is not, she’s somebody who encountered this subject, fell in love with it and dealt with it, and then moved on, you see. I mean, she’s... she’s a very, very good writer and she dips into all kinds of subjects, from sport to... well, what was her next book about? It was about English etiquette and manners. So, by the time we met, she was already onto some... some other subject. The problem for somebody like me is that I’m left to pick up the pieces, so I’m still finding myself encountering people who read her book, who takes (sic) the message on board and who end up with what is only a partial understanding of the English orthographic system, and so the... the ripples of that very successful book are still affecting us linguists a decade on.

(David Crystal was talking to Mark Worden)

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Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Il titolo del libro si rifà a una vecchia battuta sul comportamento di un panda che per un errore di punteggiatura invece di “eats shoots and leaves” (mangia germogli e foglie), diventa: “eats, shoots and leaves” (mangia, spara e se ne va).

In that, in that. In quello, nel senso che. Questa strana costruzione è dovuta al fatto che si trova l’espressione in that due volte e con due significati diversi. Prima David Crystal dice I was involved in that (ero coinvolto in quello) e poi subito dopo ripete in that ma qui il significato è “in quanto”.

Who read her book, who takes.

Che legge il suo libro, che prende. Qui David Crystal avrebbe dovuto dire who read her book, who take perché in inglese people è plurale. Vi facciamo notare che in inglese una persona di grandissima cultura come David Crystal può fare un errore grammaticale in una conversazione e non succede niente: non dovete avere paura di fare errori in inglese!