Language is one of the most complicated phenomena in the universe, yet we come into contact with it on a daily basis in ways that many of us take for granted. Fortunately, you can start to communicate a language without studying every detail about how it works — and, to be fair, we don’t have a complete understanding of how it works either. However, learning more about how language works can tell you a lot about human nature, the brain, history, and other topics. Reading linguistics books is an excellent approach to learn more about the language. There are numerous options available.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best linguistics books we’ve ever seen, covering a broad variety of subjects. There’s a communication compilation or a book about babble for everyone, whether they’re like history, science, or fiction. These books are different from each other. They are known for different properties of their own. But all of them will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of linguistics and also is a lot of fun to read and understand.
Because everyone uses words, it’s only natural that they have certain prior opinions about how it works. Linguist David Shariatmadari examines nine common myths and the truth hidden behind them in his book Don’t Believe a Word. He discusses the most up-to-date language science in an approachable way along the way (the book was published in 2020, so it’s one of the most recent). Shariatmadari also presents a number of case studies to demonstrate how language mechanics play out in our daily lives every time we open our mouths.
English is a difficult language to master. From its modest origins in Proto-Germanic to its current global standing as a lingua franca, English cannot be reduced to a single story. That is why this book is called The Stories of English rather than The Story of English; it examines history in all of its facets (and also some parts that are not so glorious). The author of the piece, David Crystal, is also a prolific writer on the subject of language, particularly English. If you enjoy his writing style, check out his library to learn a lot more about language (his Little Book of Language also makes a good introductory text).
There are almost 7,000 languages in the world, but each one has a different size. In fact, Gaston Dorren predicted that mastering just 20 languages would allow you to talk with around half of the worldwide people. Dorren examines each of these 20 languages, which hail from all corners of the globe, and the tales behind them in Babel. While he can only go into so much information on each language in a single chapter, the book is jam-packed with data and provides a solid overview of how diverse languages may be.
Everything has a first moment, which implies that there must have been the first word at some historical moment. Christine Kenneally, a linguist, and journalist examine a “new” field of linguistics that analyses the beginnings of human language in her book The First Word. She speaks with a number of linguists who have studied this subject and examines some of the most remarkable studies. As a result of the book, there are a variety of views about how language first emerged. However, if you’re seeking a “first word,” you’re probably out of luck. In any case, the trip is more important than the goal.
This is not your father’s linguistics book, as you can obviously tell from the title, Wordslut. It’s a daring yet thorough examination of how language and gender interplay. Is it true that women talk more than men? Why is it that vocal fry irritates people so much? Why are there so many words that allude to women that are also horrifying insults? To create this rant against sexism in speech, Montell interviewed experts in gendered linguistics.
John McWhorter is one of today’s most well-known linguists, having written books on a variety of subjects and presenting Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast. He is an expert on a variety of areas, but African American Vernacular English is one of his main research interests. McWhorter examines the historical handling of Black English (hint: it’s not good) and advocates for its broad adoption in Talking Back, Talking Black. Black English is a fully formed form of communication, just like any other dialect, and any objections against it are based on racism and bigotry. Although language and racism are far more connected than this one topic, McWhorter’s book is an excellent starting point for understanding more about this particular junction.
Can changing language change society? It’s a complicated question. Sometimes social justice movements get knocked for focusing more on language than on concrete change that matters to people. But Sally McConnell-Ginet argues in Words Matter that these linguistic choices are important. McConnell-Ginet says language can be a tool of the powerful and demonstrates her point with relevant examples (this book came out in 2020, so you’ll probably be all-too-aware of most of them).
8. On Language: Chomsky’s Classic Works Language and Responsibility and Reflections on Language in One Volume by Noam Chomsky
Only a few linguists ever achieve the level of household names. In fact, Noam Chomsky must be the only one. He’s perhaps better recognized today for his moral and ideological beliefs, but when he was younger, he proposed the universal grammar hypothesis, which states that humans are born with a natural talent for language. If you’re interested in learning more about Chomsky’s theories, On Language, which combines two of his most prominent works, is a good place to start. Although linguistics is a quickly evolving discipline, and we now know a lot more than we did when Chomsky was researching, his linguistics books are worth reading since his theories have had such a big impact on linguists.
We’ve written about this book before and it will continue to do so in the future. Because one of the most entertaining languages books available is the Internet. From the invention of the telegraph to today, it examines how science has shaped language and how language has influenced technologies. It also serves as a decent introduction to languages as a whole, so even complete beginners will find this book comprehensible. It’s the kind of work in which you’ll want to scribble notes on every page just so you can bring them up at the next gala event, and it’ll also make you think about how you use language on social media.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that dictionaries are books written by humans. They appear to be indestructible tomes, handed down by some linguistic lord. Every word and definition in a dictionary, however, was created by a real human. Kory Stamper, a former Merriam-Webster lexicographer, takes you behind the scenes to show you how many of these word judgments are determined in Word By Word. She also talks about the importance of dictionaries in culture and what it means when a dictionary specifies a word like “marriage.”
If you live in a predominantly monolingual culture, you probably don’t give translation much thought. However, translation is essential to the functioning of our global civilization. David Bellos examines all aspects of translation in Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Bellos demonstrates how interpretation is more philosophical than a mechanical process of evolving one language into another, from the intricate system of translation used at the United Nations to the precise word choices required when translating a classic work like Madame Bovary.
12. The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building by David J. Peterson
Who says linguistics books have to be about existing languages? You may have encountered the languages Dothraki and High Valyrian if you, like many others, watched Game of Thrones. A single individual, David J. Peterson, developed both of these created languages, or conlangs. If you’ve ever wondered how someone creates a language, you’re in luck. The Art of Language Invention by Jordan Peterson not only takes you while behind the scenes of Peterson’s work on Game of Thrones and Thor but also shows you how to start developing your own.
From Tolkien’s creations and Klingon to today’s booming global community of conlangers, Peterson provides a fascinating overview of language creation. He shows how to create and evolve new languages by presenting examples from a range of languages, except his own inventions, and peppering them with references to anything from Star Wars to Michael Jackson. Along the way, behind-the-scenes anecdotes reveal how he created languages like Dothraki for HBO’s Game of Thrones and Shiväisith for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World and a phrasebook is included to get fans talking about Peterson’s manufactured languages.