Cambridge Encylopedia of Language.
The term ‘preface’ usually refers to an introduction to a book. It gives the reader a sense of what the book will be like by setting subject and tone. Sometimes, the preface is written by someone other than the author, which often lends an air of gravitas to proceedings. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language is “a book about the English language.” (Crystal, 2010, p vi.) This, in itself, may seem like an obvious point to make about such a book but the words ‘English language’ cover hundreds of potential subjects and technicalities. The preface in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language discusses various issues associated with compiling the book, and also clarifies various definitions and ideas. I will examine how the preface comfortably establishes the book’s purpose, subject matter and tone for the reader.
The preface refers briefly to topics that were addressed briefly in the older edition of the book. For example, ‘The stories of English’ which clarifies ideas for the reader which will enable them to make an ostensibly clearer comprehension of the information within. The text discusses the various types of story that this heading could include: the literary story, the structural story, the social story and the chronological story. This sort of clarification serves the purpose of examining why the author may have not gone into so much detail on a subject, or how there is too much information to be able to possibly include it all. This sort of aspect of a preface is designed to make the book an easier read and is included as ‘something to consider’ while reading.
The author usually includes a short discussion about the criteria that worked with while writing the book. This helps to lend the book a contextual aspect which enables the reader to further clarify their understanding of the text. This ‘criteria’ usually includes aspects such as the author’s aim of the book – what they wanted their audience to learn; the personal choices the author made such as which texts to refer to; and in the case of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, David Crystal has stated that he endeavoured to “find a balance between talking about the language and letting the language speak for itself.” In the context of this sort of book, this type of comment is to be expected because it is a book that hopes to both teach and install a sense of enthusiasm in its readers.
As this edition is significantly newer than its previous editions, the preface also alludes to deliberate changes. References are made to adapted areas such as in maps for recently-changed country names and boundaries. The preface for the second edition also discusses the updated aspects such as references to technology, where the area has evolved vastly since the previous edition. The author also chooses to draw attention to the fact that he has addresses issues such as the ways in which language has changed with the advent of texting, social networks and e-mail. He discusses how language has evolved and whether or not this should be embraced for fear of abandoning our traditional sensibilities. The author points out that English today is drastically different to the English of yesteryear and as such, change can sometimes be necessary. He also refers to how language has evolved to an extent where, for some, their native language is likely to die out soon.
The preface of this book is designed to introduce the central topics, clarify some points of question for the reader and also to elaborate on changes made to this later edition. By reading the preface, the reader should be more than comfortable with their reading of the book.
Crystal, D. (2010). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language: second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.