5 Books That Will Change How You Think About Language

The more you know about language, the more you will marvel at its beauty, complexity, and flexibility. If you’re looking for some fun and fascinating reading to boost your linguistic knowledge, any of these five books would be a great way to start.

How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die by David Crystal

If you want to learn about linguistics – the scientific study of language – this is an excellent, relatively easy book to start with. It’s divided into sections a few pages long, each explaining an aspect of language. The book covers topics from ___ to ___, and it’s written such that you can either read it cover to cover or just flip to the topics that you’re curious about.

The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of “Proper” English, from Shakespeare to South Park by Jack Lynch

The idea of “proper English” has a long and fascinating history. This book will introduce you to some of the strange characters who have had the largest impacts on what we often think of as the rules of English. It includes Jonathan Swift, who wanted a government-controlled academy to make decrees about proper English. Also George Carlin, who advocated for free speech but accidentally contributed to censorship law. Their stories are woven together in Lynch’s little volume.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter

Interested in the history of the English language? Want to learn more about how and why the language has changed over time? This book is chock-full of great information. If you don’t have a linguistics background, don’t worry. McWhorter’s prose is engaging and accessible to the general public.

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

This is a classic, and for good reason. Pinker compellingly explains everything you’ve always wanted to know about the psychology of language. How babies learn it, how the brain uses it, how it affects and is affected by society. You name it, Pinker will give you an entertaining and informative explanation.

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

In this book, Prose helps you to see reading in a new way. She teaches you how to notice what the author is doing that makes it so great. Reading this book is a valuable experience for those who want to improve their own writing. It is an amazing tool for those who simply want to increase the pleasure they get from reading.