A Linguistics Reading List
There are many linguists who are fascinated by the question of how language makes sense. A good place to start is with Noam Chomsky’s 1957 Syntactic Structures, which tackles the question of how linguistic rules work.
Scott Young’s 2019 Single-sentence summary: An autodidact blogger reveals his learning tricks like a magician showing what’s behind the curtain.
Through the language glass
Linguistics has long shied away from claiming any sort of link between language and its speakers’ culture. Too many tired (and sometimes bigoted) canards about the romantic allure of Italian or the goose-stepping orderliness of German have left serious thinkers wary of linguistic relativity.
Deutscher tackles the issue in a clear and engaging style that’s often playful, too. He debunks the avowed dogma that all languages are equally complex, for instance, and examines some correlations (like a relationship between speaker population size and linguistic complexity) with what he calls a fair amount of skepticism.
He then explains what’s salvageable from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, such as the idea that language influences thought and perception in subtle ways – like what it forces speakers to notice or ignore about the world.
Language files are the localization data used by various apps to display their interface in different languages. They have a file extension of.lproj and are located in the Resources folder of the app. Clearing them from a Mac does not impact the app’s functionality but can free up space.
This chapter has had a number of changes and additions. File 1.1 (What You Know When You Know a Language) has been revised; File 5.2 (Syntax and Semantics) now includes information on semantic categories, and File 5.3 (Syntactic Constituency) has been updated to include information on syntactic non-constituents.
File 13.4 (Language and Identity) consolidates the discussion of language and social identity that previously appeared in the Language Variation chapters; and File 11.5 (Societal Multilingualism) adds information about code-switching and diglossia.
Languages of the world
One of the great wonders about human language is its diversity. From the point of view of communication systems more generally, languages may seem bewilderingly different to each other.
Despite this, it is possible to get a pretty good idea of the number of languages in the world, thanks in large part to missionary organizations such as SIL International that have documented languages as part of their Bible translation work. The main source for current linguistic data is Ethnologue, which lists detailed classified languages by continent.
The most populous country in the world has 22 official languages, while over 500 million people worldwide speak Spanish and French. If you’re curious about these languages, this book will give you a glimpse of them in all their varieties.
The language of the mind
If you’re interested in the way language reflects our brain, you’ll want to read this book. It explains how our perceptual reality is created through the twelve languages of the mind — each supplying a different component of clean, analytical thought.
This book explains how the five components of language-pragmatics, syntax, semantics, morphology, and phonetics-can be understood by studying how human beings use them in their day-to-day lives. You will also learn why dualism, materialism, structuralism, and reductionism have failed to capture the essence of language. Instead, the book argues that emergentism is the most forward-thinking theory of language.
The language of the world’s languages
A must-read to appreciate the vast range and diversity of human languages. It explains the design features of language, how languages change and efforts that can be made to preserve endangered languages.
The most authoritative source on the world’s languages, this comprehensive catalog was compiled by missionary organizations (including the Summer Institute of Linguistics) with an interest in Bible translation. It contains detailed classifications of some 6,909 languages and is freely available online.
One of the most famous books in linguistics. It presents a number of key ideas and developments in generative grammar from Chomsky and others, including the idea that all language is innate.
The grammar of the world’s languages
For an understanding of the incredibly diverse ways that languages work, this is one of the best books out there. It introduces you to some of the most interesting grammatical features out there, from word order to cases to gendered nouns.
Every language has grammar, and a good understanding of how grammar works can make it much easier to understand what people are talking about when they use terms like ‘a dog bit a man’ or ‘you were the person who threw the spear at me’. This book is a great non-technical introduction to how languages work. It also covers some of the more esoteric aspects of language, such as how different languages allow words to be built from smaller elements.