Whether you use language to communicate or have formally studied linguistics, you can’t deny that language is interesting. How its both simple and complex, how you learn the rules then break them, how you have to follow said rules but also rely on instinct, and so much more. These books will both teach you about language and linguistics, and you’ll also learn more about the world than you thought some language book could teach you. Go check these out!
1. Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCullogh
A personal favorite, Because Internet is a hilarious, relatable, immensely interesting read. It looks at how the internet has shaped the way we talk, think, and communicate with others within and outside of our generation. Think about it—the way you text is so different from the way you speak or the way you write. And what about the different methods people have started using over the years to convey emotion and tone over a medium that doesn’t naturally convey such things?
Because Internet will teach you all this and more. Linguist Gretchen McCullogh’s entertaining writing style keeps you engaged on the fascinating things she’s talking about, and you won’t be able to put this book down. Seriously, go read Because Internet!
2. The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention by Guy Deutscher
“Language is mankind’s greatest invention—except, of course, that it was never invented.” Guy Deutscher asks that impossible question in The Unfolding of Language—how the heck did language happen? If mankind started with rudimentary utterances, like how cavemen talk in comedy skits, how we did from there to sophisticated and stupidly complicated grammar, a dizzyingly enormous array of vocabulary, and nuance so fine you may as well just bash your head against a wall rather than figure out what something really means.
The Unfolding of Language looks at how language changes, grows, and decays over time, tracing back the roots of language. It’s both entertaining and enthralling, and you’ll be swept up in this book’s frankly genius exploration of the genius behind this “uniquely human faculty.” For anyone who’s ever wondered how whatever Beowulf is written in could possibly be considered English, The Unfolding of Language will teach you more about the intricacies of language than you’ve ever dreamed of.
3. What Language Is: And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be by John McWhorter
This article’s title asked you a question: “do you speak a language?” You probably know of a good handful of language off the top of your head, but can you define what a language even is? What makes something a language? What makes something not a language? What makes something a dialect of another language and not a separate language? What about accents—are those different languages?
If you want the answers to those questions and more, What Language Is explains how the languages across the globe originate, evolve, multiply, and divide. McWhorter will take you on a journey around the world’s languages, from Sri Lanka to Persia, to examine what on earth a language even is. With big ideas and fun facts, What Language Is will entertain and educate you, so go check it out!
4. Language Myths by Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill
Language Myths is all about tackling the common myths and misconceptions about language and debunking them. Have you ever heard that the media is ruining English? Or what about people saying that children just can’t speak or write properly anymore? And obviously, is it even a myth that America is ruining the English language? Yes. Yes it is. For all these myths to be explored and overthrown, this witty and entertaining book will do that and more.
Language Myths also tackles some things you didn’t even know were myths before you read this book. For example, they cover the myth that women talk too much, or that some languages are more attractive to the ear than others, or that some languages are easier to learn than others. These myths are full of antiquated thinking and outdated information. Language Myths will teach you many valuable insights and give you some truly fascinating facts. Go read it!
5. In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius by Arika Okrent
Oh boy, this is definitely the book all you geeks have been waiting for. All these other super boring books just talk about real life languages. How quaint. But seriously, Arika Okrent’s awesome book talks about the many invented languages, from ones that everyone knows about like Klingon to more obscure languages like Blissymbolics or Babm. There are actually nearly nine hundred invented languages, if you can believe it. And making up your own language requires lots of hard work, hope, and research.
In the Land of Invented Languages explores all this and more. You’ll read about Esperanto, a language born of one man’s quest for world peace via linguistic solidarity. And you can learn about how humans have tried to create the “perfect” language, because our existing ones are definitely flawed. Or are they? Go read this book to find out!
While the study of linguistics may not be for everyone, the use of language definitely is. So if you want to learn more about this mess we call a communication system, then these books are absolutely for you. From learning about emoticons and keysmashing to the history of how language evolved to Klingon, you’ll be undoubtedly entertained and educated all the way through.