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Old 09-03-2013, 10:48 AM
Ad Astra is offline
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Recommend a book on linguistics/language history


I'm currently looking for a few (or many) books on linguistics, the history of language, and the like. Titles along the lines of "The Mother Tongue" by Bill Bryson, though preferably with fewer errors - entry-level/dilettante-type titles, rather than dense scholarly tomes.

This is all assuming that there are more out there other than the aforementioned Bryson book. I'd imagine there are, but what do I know? After all, that's why I'm asking youse guys. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
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Old 09-03-2013, 10:50 AM
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The Story of English is old, was the companion to a PBS mini-series, and has failings, but is still an excellent introduction.
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Old 09-03-2013, 10:50 AM
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Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct is nicely informative.
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:14 PM
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Thank you both! Both of those titles look quite interesting.
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:26 PM
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Browse through Language, Though, and Reality by Benjamin Worf.
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Old 09-03-2013, 12:47 PM
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Board members may call me a sadist for recommending this, but I found Andrew Radford's books very approachable. They're about syntax, but one or two are specifically for English and give you a lot to think about.

I also enjoyed Gussenhoven & Jacobs' Understanding Phonology.
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Old 09-03-2013, 01:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KneadToKnow View Post
The Story of English is old, was the companion to a PBS mini-series, and has failings, but is still an excellent introduction.
A wonderful book with or without the companion video.
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Old 09-03-2013, 01:43 PM
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A wonderful book with or without the companion video.
I concur fully, but some people automatically poo-poo companion books.
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Old 09-03-2013, 02:19 PM
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I highly recommend The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention by Guy Deutscher. It gets referenced a lot in linguistics and language threads, and for good reason.
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Old 09-03-2013, 02:22 PM
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How about John McWhorter's lecture series The Story of Human Language from The Teaching Company? McWhorter's a wonderful lecturer. Plus, the course guidebook includes a bibliography with suggestions for further reading.

(Teaching Company courses can be a bit expensive, but you could see if your library it, find a used copy someplace like Amazon.com, or download it from Audible.com if you're a member there.)
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Old 09-03-2013, 02:23 PM
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I second The Language Instinct, along with several of Pinker's other books:
-The Stuff of Thought examines commonalities among languages in several areas, including profanity, innuendo, and mapping of physical space, and uses these commonalities to explore what they tell us about human nature.
-Words and Rules looks at one ridiculously specific aspect of language--irregular past tense verbs--and through this example advances an argument about the acquisition of language by children.

He doesn't do a lot with linguistic history, but it does figure into his books, and it's very interesting stuff.
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Old 09-03-2013, 03:18 PM
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Again, thanks all! All of these recs look excellent!

And Thudlow Boink, my wallet is not thanking you for the series recommendation - I went to Audible and ended up wish-listing about half of the Great Courses collections.
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Old 09-03-2013, 03:32 PM
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Pinker is a great writer, able to convey complicated ideas to us laymen. I should probably get a copy of The Language Instinct.

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of linguistics regards paleolinguistics and the light it can shed on archeology. (I think I got this from Jared Diamond.) For example, if we find archeological evidence of a technology in two child cultures of the same parent culture, we can figure out whether the invention of the technology preceded the split or not. If it did, most technical terms will be similar. Of course, it's never that simple, but that gives us a starting point.
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Old 09-04-2013, 05:23 AM
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I highly recommend Word Play by Peter Farb. It's fascinating, informative, and funny as hell.
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Old 09-04-2013, 06:45 AM
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The aforementioned John McWhorter's The Power of Babel is my favorite. I've loaned it and given copies away to several friends. Brisk, thought-provoking, and in parts quite funny.
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Old 09-04-2013, 06:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
How about John McWhorter's lecture series The Story of Human Language from The Teaching Company? McWhorter's a wonderful lecturer. Plus, the course guidebook includes a bibliography with suggestions for further reading.

(Teaching Company courses can be a bit expensive, but you could see if your library it, find a used copy someplace like Amazon.com, or download it from Audible.com if you're a member there.)
I second this; we got it from our library and listened to it on a long driving trip, and it was fascinating.
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Old 09-04-2013, 11:57 AM
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You might find 'Language Made Plain' and 'A Mouthful of Air' by Anthony Burgess of interest.
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Old 09-04-2013, 01:29 PM
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Elizabeth W barber writes books on textiles and is a linguist as well. Her book on Women's work has an appendi on language that was quite interesting.
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Old 09-04-2013, 04:23 PM
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The Professor and the Madman... (Oxford English Dictionary)


by Simon Winchester. This came to my mind when I read your query.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Professor-.../dp/0060839783

from Amazon: The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary -- and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857, it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.
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Old 09-04-2013, 05:37 PM
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I quite enjoyed McWhorter's Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue.
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Old 09-04-2013, 05:45 PM
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I've been reading The History of English, by Scott Shay. It's definitely scholarly, but I find it easy enough to follow, and I don't have any particular expertise in linguistics ... other than I are speaking English all in my life.
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Old 09-05-2013, 12:03 AM
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Here is a great website for languages...

http://wals.info/
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Old 09-05-2013, 04:10 AM
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Perhaps it's more limited in scope than what you're looking for but I found David Crystal's The English Language very enjoyable. However, I must point out that when I read it in the early 90's, I thought that some of the studies he referenced were old (dating from the 50's or 60's). Still, it contained lots of valuable and sometimes funny information. What's more, I think there's a new edition.
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Old 09-05-2013, 10:34 AM
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That's a good point. People think of language history as something that's old and settled. As with all other sciences, though, we've probably learned more in the past 50 years than in all previous history combined. Modern computer searching is revolutionizing the field, and that's just begun the transformation.

A number of books mentioned here are older. I liked Peter Farb's Word Play a lot, but it dates from 1973. For the most part it'll hold up if all you want is an entertaining introduction. But when he talks about pidgins, or the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, or the origins of language, just as examples, much of what he writes is outdated.

David Crystal seems to write a big fat book on English once a year. The English Language was first published in 1987. The Stories of English is from 2004. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language has a 2010 updating. It's a very cool book, designed for the popular reader, heavily illustrated, and fascinating on every page.
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