Language is one of the most complicated things in the world, but we see it every day in a way that many people take for granted. The good news is that you don’t need to know everything about how a language works to learn how to speak. To be honest, we don’t know everything about that. You can also learn a lot about human nature, the brain, history, and more by learning more about how language is used. Reading linguistics books is a great way to get to know more about the world of words.
If that’s good news for you, there are a lot of different things that you can do. You can read about many different types of linguistics in this list of the best books that we’ve read. History, science, or fantasy? There’s a book or compendium about communication for you, no matter what your favorite subject is.
The Best Linguistics Books By Topic
For A Good Overview: Don’t Believe A Word By David Shariatmadari
Everyone has some ideas about how language works, so it makes sense that everyone has some ideas about how it works. If you read David Shariatmadari’s book, Don’t Believe a Word, you’ll learn about nine myths and the truth behind them. On the way, he talks about the most up-to-date language science in an easy-to-understand way. The book came out in 2020, so it’s one of the most recent. Besides real-world examples, Shariatmadari also shows you how language works in our lives every time we speak.
For Learning About English History: The Stories Of English By David Crystal
English is a hard language to understand. There’s a lot more to English than can be told in a simple story. It started out as Proto-Germanic, and now English is used all over the world. That’s why this book isn’t called “The Story of English,” but “The Stories of English.” It looks at history in all its many different ways (and also some parts that are not so glorious). David Crystal, the author of this book, is also very well-known for his work on language and English in general. In order to learn more about how language works, you should check out his bibliography (his Little Book of Language also makes a good introductory text).
For Learning About Other Languages’ History: Babel By Gaston Dorren
In the world, there are more than 7,000 different languages. The size of each one is very different from one another. That’s what Gaston Dorren came up with. If you wanted to speak with about half of the world’s people, you’d only need 20 skills. She looks at each of these 20 languages and the stories that go with them in the book Babel. They come from all over the world. While there’s only so much he can cover in a single chapter for each language, the book is full of information and gives you a good idea of how different languages are.
For The Origins Of Language: The First Word By Christine Kenneally
There must have been a first word at some point in history. Linguist and journalist Christine Kenneally talks about a new field in linguistics that looks at how humans learned to speak. In The First Word, she talks about this new field. She talks to a lot of linguists who have done research on this subject and talks about some of the most interesting studies. In the end, the book shows that there are a lot of different ways to think about how language first began. It’s possible that you won’t be able to find a real “first word.” I think it’s more important to think about the journey than the end goal.
For The Intersection Of Language And Gender: Wordslut By Amanda Montell
I think you can figure out from the title that this is not your father’s book on linguistics. It’s a very different look at how language and gender work together. Do women talk more than men? It’s hard to understand why people don’t like the sound of their voice. They refer to women, but some of them are really bad. Montell talks to people who study gendered linguistics to write this tirade against sexism in language.
For The Intersection Of Language And Race: Talking Back, Talking Black By John McWhorter
John McWhorter is one of the most well-known linguists working today, and he has written a lot of books and hosts a podcast for Slate. Among the things he knows a lot about are African American Vernacular English and a lot of other things. There are some problems with how Black English has been treated in the past, and McWhorter tries to get more people to use it, which is why he wrote Talking Back, Talking Black. As with any other dialect, Black English has reached the point where it can be used to communicate, and any arguments against it are based on racism and prejudice. Language and race are far more connected than this one issue, but McWhorter is a great way to start learning about this one.
For The Intersection Of Language And Power: Words Matter By Sally McConnell-Ginet
Can language change society? It’s a hard question to answer. Sometimes, social justice groups are criticized for focusing more on language than on concrete changes that people can see. This is not always a good thing. But Sally McConnell-Ginet says in Words Matter that these linguistic choices are important, and she talks about them. There are a lot of examples in McConnell-book Ginet’s that show how language can be used by the powerful. This book came out in 2020, so you’ll be familiar with most of them.
For A Classic Linguistic Tome: On Language By Noam Chomsky
There are very few linguists who become well-known in their field. This isn’t true. There may only be one person who is: Noam Chomsky. In his youth, he came up with the idea of universal grammar, which is the idea that humans are born with a natural ability to speak. This is what he called “universal grammar.” if you want to learn more about his ideas, you can read On Language, which includes two of Chomsky’s best-known works. Because Chomsky’s ideas have had such a big impact on linguists, it’s worth reading his linguistics books because we know so much more now than we did when he was writing.
For Language On The Internet: Because Internet By Gretchen McCulloch
In the past, we’ve talked about this book. Because the Internet is one of the best linguistics books out there to read because it is so fun. It looks at how technology has changed language, and how language has changed technology, from when the telephone was first made to now. It also looks at how technology and language have changed over time. Because this book is so easy to read even for people who aren’t very good at language, it is also good for people who are just starting out. That kind of book makes you want to highlight everything so you can talk about it at the next party. It will also make you more aware of the way you use language on social media after reading this book.
For A Look At How Dictionaries Work: Word By Word By Kory Stamper
A dictionary is a book made by people, and it can be easy to forget that. They look like books that have been passed down from a linguistic ruler. In fact, every word and definition in a dictionary was made by someone who was alive at the time they were written down. Ex-lexicographer Kory Stamper shows you how all these word decisions are made in Word By Word. Even more, she talks about how dictionaries play a big part in society, and what it really means when a dictionary says something like “marriage.”
For The Philosophy Of Translation: Is That A Fish In Your Ear? By David Bellos
If you live in a mostly monolingual country, you probably don’t think much about translation. But the work of translating is important to making our global society work. This book by David Bellos talks about all the different parts of translating. Is That a Fish in Your Ear? When translating a classic work like Madame Bovary, Bellos shows that translation isn’t just a simple process of changing one language into another. It’s more philosophical than it is just a simple process of changing one language into another.
For Fantasy Languages: The Art Of Language Invention By David J. Peterson
In linguistics books, who says that they have to be about languages that are already out there? If you watched Game of Thrones, you might have heard the words Dothraki and High Valyrian. David J. Peterson, the person who made both of these languages, or “conlangs,” came up with them. If you ever wonder how someone comes up with a new language, you’re in luck. You can learn more about Peterson’s work on Game of Thrones and Thor in his book, The Art of Language Invention. It also shows you how to start making your own. You might not get hired to work on the next sci-fi movie, but making a conlang can be a fun hobby that can teach you a lot about how language works.