Language and creativity: The art of common talk.

Language and creativity: The art of common talk. By Ronald Carter. New York: Routledge, 2004. Pp. xiii, 255. ISBN 0415234492. $35.95.

Reviewed by Carolina González, Florida State University

Language and creativity: The art of common talk explores creativity in spoken English. It argues that, far from being an attribute of gifted individuals, creativity is pervasive and essential in interpersonal communication and best understood with reference to social and cultural contexts.


In the introduction (1–13), Carter discusses the origin of the book, together with its rationale and organization. While creativity is well studied from a psychological point of view, it has been neglected in linguistics. In this area, the emphasis has been on the study of creativity in written rather than spoken language, and sociocultural factors have been mostly overlooked. This book attempts to be a step in the exploration of creativity in ‘everyday spoken English’ (11) from a social rather than mentalistic point of view.


This volume is divided into six chapters organized into three parts: ‘Backgrounds and theories’, ‘Forms and functions’, and ‘Contexts and variations’. Ch. 1, ‘Approaches to creativity’ (17–52), lays the groundwork for the study of creativity in language by reviewing how different disciplines have approached this topic. Ch. 2, ‘Lines and clines: Linguistic approaches’ (53–86), argues that creativity has multiple forms and functions, varying according to the social context and the identity and values of its users.


Part 2, ‘Forms and functions’, examines creative resources in spoken language data from CANCODE (Cambridge and Nottingham Corpus of Discourse in English), a computerized corpus of spoken English with five million words recorded from 1993 to 2001. Some of the most pervasive figures of speech are exemplified in ‘Creativity and patterns of talk’ (Ch. 3, 89–114) and ‘Figures of speech’ (Ch. 4, 115–43). These include puns, wordplay, neologisms, repetition, and also metaphors, idioms, and hyperbole. These resources are used for different purposes, among them enjoyment, entertainment, and displaying identity.


Chs. 5 and 6, ‘Creativity, language and social context’ (147–69) and ‘Creativity, discourse and social practice’ (170–217), examine creativity in different social contexts and settings. C’s conclusion is that spoken creativity is probabilistic and more prevalent in specific contexts, under specific types of interpersonal relationships.


Three appendices follow. Appendix 1 (219–21) provides a list of the conventions used in the transcription of data and comments on some aspects of corpus analysis. Appendix 2 (222–26) briefly discusses creative-prone suffixes -y and -ish, frequently used to create neologisms in the CANCODE data. Appendix 3 (227–30) lists CANCODE publications from 1994 to 2003. References and a thematic index follow.


This book provides a fascinating addition to our understanding of the nature of creativity in language. It is superbly researched, well organized, and very readable. Every chapter ends with a detailed list of suggestions for further reading, which will be very helpful to researchers interested in the study of creativity in language from many different angles.