455. David Crystal Interview (Part 2) Questions from Listeners

Talking to the world’s top writer and lecturer on the English language, Professor David Crystal. In this episode, David answers questions from listeners.


Episode Introduction

Here’s part two of my interview with the famous linguist Professor David Crystal.

In this one I asked him some questions from my listeners. I didn’t get a chance to ask all the questions I received, so if your question isn’t included then I do apologise. I left out some questions because I think he had already answered them in one way or another, or because we just didn’t have time.

But the questions I did ask him covered quite a wide range of different topics, including the way foreign words get absorbed into English, predictions for the future of English, how to deal with the workload of studying linguistics at university, the nature of English syntax, how languages affect the way we think and see the world, why British people use indirect and polite language, the influence of AI on language learning, the effects of Brexit on English in the world, whether it is appropriate to speak like Ali G, some study tips and some comments on the English of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com where you can see a reading list of David’s books, read his blog, see videos of him in action and even contact him by email.

I would just like to thank David for his time again, and I hope all of you out there in podcast land enjoy listening to our conversation.


Influence of foreign languages on English

Hamid Naveed (Pakistan)
I’m an English language teacher. My question for David Crystal is: www.oald8.com (The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary) has a lot of new words from Urdu such as ‘ badam’ ‘ chai’ ‘ aloo’ ‘ bagh’ ‘ dharna’ and many more. If English keeps on taking words from Urdu or any other language, then what will be the future of English? I mean English will no longer be English. What is your take on this ? Thanks.

The Future

My question for David Crystal is what is the future of the English language? Will it be the same or will it be a little bit different since we know that english has changed over the decades?
How do you think English will develop over the next few years?
How will non-native speakers be part of this?

Tips for students of Linguistics

Jairo Trujillo García (from Tenerife)
I am studying an English and Spanish linguistics ( and philology ) degree , and even though I like it , it can be really hard at times ;
What recommendations would you give me to make the burden of vast information more manageable in the time allotted ?

English Syntax

Cat (Originally from Russia, moved to Germany)
I’m very confused about English syntax. I spent many years studying German grammar and syntax but it is of little use for learning English. German and English appear so similar (especially the words) and yet so different (for example, the sentence structure) at the same time. I just feel that something is completely different, but cannot point out the difference. Could you please tell us a little bit about the sentence structure and logic (the syntax) of English? (Perhaps you could compare it to the syntax of other languages)
As I don’t like doing grammar exercises at all (I’m sorry!), I was wondering, are there some more enjoyable and fun ways to learn English syntax? Maybe some shortcuts and mnemonics what you can offer us? Also what about the punctuation rules between the main and sub clauses? They can be a real pain in the neck for our transcribers. Thank you!

Language and Psychology

I have several questions for Prof. David Crystal. The first is whether people who speak different languages think differently, I mean, if they understand and perceive the world in different ways. For example, I’ve heard that while in some places people perceive two colours and give each of them a name, somewhere else there might be others who perceive those same two colours as only one because they have only one name for them. Another example I have in mind is how we position adjectives in a sentence in English compared to in Romance languages. In English, adjectives usually come before the noun they describe. Romance languages, on the other hand, tend to place adjectives after the noun. So in English we first refer to the characteristics of something before we say what it is, and in Romance languages we start with a noun and then describe it. Does it affect, in any way, the way we think?
If we learn a second language, do we start to think more like the native speakers of that language?
Thank you very much!

Language and culture

Mayumi (Japan)
Why do British people tend to use indirect language, hesitate to say “no” and also frequently say “sorry” in various situations? Is there any story from linguistic history?
In my Japanese culture, as far as I know we also find similar tendencies because we’ve lived in this tiny island and if people said whatever they wanted, behaved without caring about other people in this small area, or even argued with each other, they could possibly end up being expelled from this small society. This can be one of the reasons why we have these tendencies as well. This is something stuck in my mind for ages from the university class.
Did British people had similar experience when they established their culture or could it be an absolutely different story?

The Influence of Technology

Antonio (Spain)
My question for David Crystal: Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies are working on translators in real time based on AI. So we can speak in Spanish with a French person and he will hear French while he speaks in French and we hear Spanish.
Skype has this option for 8 languages.
What do you think about about the AI related to language learning?
Will AI replace our need to learn other languages?

Advice for learners of English

Jack – Origin Unknown
(I don’t know why, but Jack always writes comments on my site in an Ali G dialect. I actually think it’s evidence of how good he is at English, because he can clearly write in normal style, but he chooses to adopt this specific form of English – if he can do that it shows great ability to shift between different registers and dialects – if he can break the rules I presume it means he knows that the rules are there in the first place – for some reason he chooses to write comments in this lingo – are you ready?)
I is not that learned but I also has got questions for Professor David Crystal.
Dear Sir,
Booyakasha, It is a well big honour to have you ere on da podcast, you is da only person me respects in the field of linguists after Norman Chomp The Sky and Stephen The Crasher (Naom Chomsky and Stephen Krashen).
What advice would you give to an English language learner to improve his / her language ability? Should the student focus on form (grammar, vocab etc) or should the student focus on meaning and let the subconscious do the rest?
Well that`s me questions there Big man. I has to say you is the shining crystal in the field of linguistics.
Big up yourself Prof Crystal
Respek, Westside.



There was so much interesting content in what David Crystal said in this conversation and so much to take from it. These two episodes are really worth listening to several times so that you can really get a grip on what he said and really absorb it all.

If you sent in a question that I didn’t ask, then I’m sorry about that.
I should do follow-up episode in which I consolidate a lot of what DC said, and highlight various things that you can apply to your whole approach and attitude towards learning English.
Watch out for that.

Check out David’s work at www.davidcrystal.com
He’s got books about grammar, spelling, pronunciation, accents, Shakespeare – pretty much any aspect of English – he’s got it and he always writes in a clear and entertaining style.
I’m not selling his work or anything. It’s just genuinely good stuff that I’d like to share with you. This is why I’m so happy to have spoken to DC on the podcast – he’s ace and you should read his work.

Thanks for listening! I invite you to leave your comments below.

  • ptholome/Antonio

    You know, Luke, Since I started transcribing, there’s always someone asking for a tool like Dr Watson or Google voice typing we could use to transcribe so the task would be easier.
    I always tell them that it is better to do it ourselves because we need to learn more and deeper which wouldn’t be possible with these kind of tools.

    So I agree, We can learn a language and keep our specificity while speaking with others instead passing through an AI translator, though I am sure a lot of people will stop making this big effort. I wouldn’t have done it if my grandchildren were French or Spanish but also I would never use any tool to speak with them because what I love is the direct communication.

    I know that it is going to take decades to have a proper AI translator but think that for the main languages it is going to happen sooner than 100 years… You know the 20/80 law (Pareto law) 20% of the existing languages are spoken by 80% of the population so if you focus on these 20% you solve 80% of the problem. and certainly there are 5 languages that are spoken by half the world population. So it is not going to be a big problem.
    In fact I believe that google is taking all the videos and audio we are uploading on their system and feeding their AI system to help it learning for any of us because they know even were we come from.

    Related to our accent I would say that I speak the language of a country spoken by more than 500 millions people in the world. and I speak of another language spoken by 400 millions maybe, so when I speak English I like to speak like an Spanish-french person because these two cultures are part of my life… I never wanted to speak exactly like French people, and even now I don’t have the exact Spanish accent and I don’t care because it is me. So in English I always tell to others that we don’t need to speak like natives speakers but to understand them well and to be clearly understood by English people. Because as David Crystal, Paul, you and all the teachers say is: what matter is to have a good communication with people.

    Thank you and see you soon if I have something to say when I will listen again the episode.

    Big hug from Spain, 45 degrees C. :)

  • Orion team (Antonio)

    Hi people,

    This episode 455 David Crystal (2) id finished


  • Anna Markina

    hi Luke. I’m one of your ninja listener. Today I’ve heard your new episode and then I thought about Jack and his Ali G dialect….it reminded me one person from star wars….may be he wants to be read in this manner? very nice character)))) uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2efb142c5be01b28de402471ae042fa551c6090087d5bffbee405f3d12a973de.jpg

  • Weigh language learning up in wake of the Internet impact. English is a pillow fort. There’s no time to be wasted. Technology value is BIG but is a huge loss for reality. The world has a lot going for. The best argument against Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a true connection with all Beings.

  • lukasz

    Great podcast – I was a pleasure to listen to such a well-educated person who can enrich any conversation with great examples and comprehensive explanations. It was similar to conversations with your father – not about politics and economy but this time about languaget. Please invite more guests like this in the future.

  • Princess Leia

    I studied Portuguese and English Language and Literature and this man was one of the most amazing especialists I had the pleasure to read/watch. Very good interview.

    • Cat

      Hello, your Highness! :))

  • Hamid Naveed

    Luke, thanks for including my question. I loved these two episodes with David Crystal. Keep it up Luke!

  • Cat

    Who on earth is Norman Chomp The Sky? :))

  • MayumiM

    Hi, Luke. Wow, thank you for this very interesting episode! and simply choosing my question as well. I already listened to this and previous episodes twice straight away. It’s such a pleasure to listen to his answer. Well, I hope my question about British people didn’t annoy him by this slight generalisation… and I’m quite not sure about his answer yet so I’ll save this homework for my driving time to work today, which normally takes 1hr, and enjoy it!

    • Cat

      Mayumi, one hour is a pretty long time for a commute. Thanks God you’ve got the resources how to make the best use of your time! ;) I wonder how many of your commuting fellows are ninja lepsters… :))

      • MayumiM

        Yeah, very long time! I sometimes nearly drift off to sleep unconsciously! but as you said, I’m using this boring routine moment to study so I can now have 2hrs study time for a day. Lucky me:)) Thanks for your lovely comment, by the way.