Five brilliant books to inspire a love of linguistics

April 24, 2019
Five brilliant books to inspire a love of linguistics

Whether you’ve read an article recently that has triggered a casual interest in linguistics, or you have a more formal goal in mind, such as a career in app translation, legal interpretation or some other language-related field, there are plenty of great books out there to inspire you. Here, Tomedes rounds up five brilliant books about linguistics, from fascinating journeys through the history of language to hilarious insights into how specific languages evolve. Happy reading!

Language Myths by Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill 

If your interest in linguistics is just taking off, this is a superb place to start. Language Myths is a delightfully accessible collection of 21 essays, written by some of the world’s leading linguists. These myth-busting essays take a look at some of the more common misconceptions about language as it stands today, from the media ruining the English language to children no longer being able to write properly. 

The engaging tone and lack of jargon make this a great introduction to some interesting aspects of language. The variety of topics can also help to steer the reader towards discovering their own particularly linguistic interests. 

The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter

Another great book to cover the basics of linguistics, this time with a historical bent, The Power of Babel is a cracking read (or listen, for those who prefer audio books!). Its accessible style makes it a winner with everyone from language students to casual readers. 

The Power of Babel is an authoritative tome that takes on a journey through the history of language, with a particular focus on fascinating indigenous languages. And for those who enjoy author John McWhorter’s unique take on linguistics, there’s also the Lexicon Valley podcast, which is well worth checking out. 

The Stories of English by David Crystal

Funny, engaging and quite the non-fiction page-turner, The Stories of the English takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the history of the English language. It shows how interwoven linguistic strands (from unusual dialects to the use of slang) have developed and grown to create the language that we use today. The casual style makes for an easy read – a must have for anyone looking to pursue an interest in the evolution of language. 

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language by Steven Pinker

Taking an original stance on language and the way in which we use it, The Language Instinct asserts that language is as natural to humans as flying is to birds – that it is an instinctive adaptation. Pinker takes the reader on a fascinating journey, challenging our perceptions of language as he walks us through is theory. 

From the process behind a child’s first words to the languages in which we think, Pinker takes an in depth look at all things language-related in this delightful work. 

The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher 

The Unfolding of Language explores how our languages developed over the millennia from the rudimentary basics of communication into the fascinating and highly complex structures that we now know. It takes in the evolution of sophisticated grammatical concepts to the sheer scale of some languages’ vocabularies. And all in an easy to digest format that keeps the reader engaged throughout.  

Final thoughts

Linguistics is an exciting and captivating topic that can quickly grip those who study it and inspire the pursuit of ever more knowledge. These five books offer some very different takes on this vast topic, but there are plenty more out there. Why not leave a comment sharing details of the first linguistics book that caught your interest, so that your fellow language-lovers can discover it too?