Top Ten Books About Language

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To paraphrase one of our reviewers, books are Bookbag's business and Bookbag's love, and books are made of words. Words, among other things, make language. Language is one of the things that make us human. This is a mixed-bag top 10 of books that deal with language, with words, with communication of meaning that goes beyond language, and with our favourite variety of language: the one that makes books. Why not tell us about your favourites?

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


Concise and erudite introduction to the study of language covering all basic aspects of language mechanics. Despite devoting slightly too much space to world's variety of language and foreign language learning, it would still be good as a first book on linguistics and a basic family reference tool. It is particularly good at showing how language works externally but it covers the all internal mechanics of language too. Full review...

The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind by Steven Pinker


This book concerns language in general rather than any specific languages and it describes mechanics of language as well as making an extremely convincing, well presented and often entertaining argument in favour of the innate character of spoken language acquisition and development. Can work as a good introduction to evolutionary psychology in general, too. Recommended for anybody interested in the mind science or language in general but do not expect advice on usage. Full review...

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf


A book about how and why we read, jam-packed with fascinating information from the developing of writing systems to the latest research on dyslexia. Full review...

Words and Pictures: Writers, Artists and a Peculiarly British Tradition by Jenny Uglow


Illustrations can play an important part in our experience of reading. This is a short, but well-written and informative account of the relationship between words and pictures in books in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, and is recommended. Full review...

Toujours Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod


The second book of the oddest words from the world with their beguiling definitions, with added grammatical asides. More fun than it ever sounds like being. Full review...

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker


Energetic, passionate, intelligent and lively, Pinker is erudite but accessible, lucid and precise but never stifled, conversational and occasionally colloquial but never crude. Fittingly, this language scholar is also an excellent writer and Pinker carries this double mantle with aplomb occasionally bordering on chutzpah and plenty of style. Highly recommended. Full review...

Tic-tac Teddy Bears and Teardrop Tattoos by Justin Scroggie


Four stars – code for a good book that has a few awkward elements but on the whole provides a very good and authoritative look at a world of hidden messages and coded communications. Full review...

A Kick In The Head: An Everyday Guide To Poetic Forms by Paul B Janeczko and Chris Raschka


An introduction to poetry for children. What could have been worthy but dull is actually fun, vibrant, fascinating, eye-opening, and just the sort of book that every parent will love reading with their children. Kids will soak it up like a sponge, fostering a real understanding and appreciation of poetry. Highly recommended. Full review...

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! by Lynne Truss


Perfect for the home educator, the parent whose child struggles with punctuation or anyone's Christmas stocking, this little book about the importance of the comma is both educational and funny. More pages and the inclusion of some lessons about the apostrophe would have given a little bit more value. Full review...

Seeing Spells Achieving by Olive Hickmott and Andrew Bendefy


A simple method aimed at overcoming the disadvantages of dyslexic symptoms, delivered in a user-friendly book. Highly recommended. Full review...

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