Author Topic: Your most influential linguistics book  (Read 2481 times)

Offline Corybobory

  • Global Moderator
  • Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 138
  • Country: gb
    • English
    • Coryographies: Handmade Creations by Cory
Your most influential linguistics book
« on: December 26, 2013, 02:51:07 PM »
What book on linguistics holds a special place on the shelf for you?  Is there a particular book that has really influenced you in your curiosity about language?

For my I have to credit Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, because when I read it at 17, it was the first book to introduce me to the concept of linguistics and made me decide I wanted to study it at university.  Reading the book again years later it also charged my curiosity in the origins of language.

Another book that I keep revisiting is The Articulate Mammal by Jean Aitchison.  On psycholinguistics, it deals with a lot of (in my opinion!) the most interesting and absorbing questions about language.  I dip in and out of it regularly, it seems, no matter what I'm thinking about!

What about you?
BA Linguistics, MSt Palaeoanthropology and Palaeolithic Archaeology, current PhD student (Archaeology, 1st year)

My handmade book jewellery:

Offline lx

  • Global Moderator
  • Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 164
Re: Your most influential linguistics book
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2013, 06:29:20 PM »
I can't really say I have a main book, not one like you do because I keep changing my mind and one thing I like at one moment is always tarred somehow by something I read/discover later on and I don't see this dark, winding path ending anytime soon. Probably the standard introductory book all linguistics students read: Contemporary Linguistics. That really stuck with me as being the book that took me from being a curious outsider to really giving me the resolve to dive in at the deep end and not turn back.

Offline Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 1652
  • Country: us
    • English
Re: Your most influential linguistics book
« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2013, 08:58:08 PM »
It's hard to say. I'm pretty picky (and questioning) about what I believe, so there are few books that I find especially solid. It's certainly not any of my intro textbooks, and that's where I started. Interesting question, though. I can't really think of a single book that changed my view after that, either.

In terms of books I'd recommend (on specific topics), the three that come to mind are:
1/2. Comrie's Tense and Aspect (the short red reference guides). Very well done, good data, easy to read. Good mix of typology and theory.
3. Janson's The History of Languages: An Introduction, because the first and last chapters are very clear and interesting. Admittedly the middle of the book gets a little farther into sociolinguistics than my interests, but that's ok.

There are certainly some articles that deserve honorable mention as well-- "The Myths of Language Universals" for one.

In terms of books that have made me more determined to contribute better theories to the field... don't get me started :P
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.

Offline freknu

  • Forum Regulars
  • Serious Linguist
  • *
  • Posts: 397
  • Country: fi
    • Ostrobothnian (Norse)
Re: Your most influential linguistics book
« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2013, 03:22:37 AM »
Not really a "book" as such, but J. Pokorny's "Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch". It continues to fuel my interest in Proto-Germanic, Proto-Indo-European, and language chane, and as I'm a data-driven practical linguist — rather than theoretical — it has, and continues to do so, helped me with many etymologies.

Almost 55 years old, yet I would still place it on the must-have list of any linguist dealing with Indo-European languages.

Offline Guijarro

  • Forum Regulars
  • Linguist
  • *
  • Posts: 97
  • Country: es
    • Spanish
    • Elucubraciones de José Luis Guijarro
Re: Your most influential linguistics book
« Reply #4 on: December 27, 2013, 06:44:28 AM »
When I was thinking about writing a PhD thesis, I began to muse about a literary analysis of the Swiss-German writer Max Frisch who fascinated me at that time (and still does to-day). My brother in law, the late English linguist, Julian Dakin (here is some information about him, for the interested:, asked me why on earth I was going to write a thesis on literature. I said that as a "humanist", I was interested in the human soul in its best clothing, namely art, and specially, Literature with a big

Being British, Julian agreed by saying: "Oh? How interesting!" adding: "And why is Literature a piece of human soul for you?". Well, I gave him all sorts of reasons; however, like Cory, he wouldn't care less about the words I said, but went on along his idea: "Don't you think that Literature would be impossible without words?". "Well, obviously", I said. "So", he went on, "perhaps, to study the way words are organized in human minds would be a better move to find out about the human soul, don't you think?". I didn't know what to say, but I had hated the prescriptive and the structuralist philology/linguistics I had done at school, and the idea of writing a thesis on that awful material did not look very attractive to me.

Seeing my reluctance, Julian gave me a book by one Japanese named American Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action (, and recommended me to read it. I liked it so much, that I passed it on to my sister and brother ... and to my mother who was also enthralled by it. We began talking about this book among ourselves for a couple of months and Julian acted as a webmaster without a web, solving all our problems, extending some points, etc.

He was the first to make me like Linguistics (Semantics, it was). I used the book as obligatory assignment in my first classes at the University, when I was teaching English language, instead of literary works, and slowly by slowly got the idea to write perhaps a linguistic thesis. In the meantime, Julian died of  heart attack, and i went to Edinburgh where my sister lived, etc.

I have never re-read Hayakawa's book again. I am sure that I would not like it half as much today. But it is still, for me THE most important linguistics book in my life. I wish that as a Linguistics instructor, I should have had the same success that Julian had wit me with at least one of my students!
« Last Edit: December 28, 2013, 10:26:39 AM by Guijarro »