> From any of those who have favorite sources of information about
> punctuation, syntax, or words (other than dictionaries), I'd appreciate
> your e-mailed notes telling me of them. I am attempting to compile a
> list for the committee which determines what books to buy for our town
> Should any of you have your own favorites that would not likely be
> included in a small town public library, I still would like to know of
> them.....for my benefit alone.
> I shall appreciate any and all efforts in response to this letter.
Here's a mildly annotated list, in no particular order; I was making one
up for my students anyway. I can provide more bibliography as needed for
most of these. The ones with a "#" may be out of print; but one can
usually find good used copies. I'm posting this also to a.u.e on the
off chance others might find the list useful.
David Antin is a poet and artist who is very knowledgeable about
language and linguistics. He's well worth reading on any topic:
Antin talking at the boundaries
Dwight Bolinger was one of the century's greatest linguists. Anything
by him is good, since he was a truly fine writer. He wrote one
excellent introductory book:
Bolinger Aspects of Language [get the 2nd Edition(#), NOT the 3rd!]
and he also wrote, toward the end of his life, a magnificent little
book on the use and abuse of language:
Bolinger Language: The Loaded Weapon
Beth Levin is a computational linguist at Northwestern University
who has written an indispensable guide to English verbs and their
syntactic peculiarities. It categorizes several thousand of the most
common English verbs for all the different constructions they can
or must or must not be used in, information that all native speakers
"know" in one sense, but are rarely cognizant of. Technical, but
Levin English Verb Classes And Alternations: A Preliminary Investigation
(The Verb Index from this book is available online; it lists
over 3000 verbs and indicates what section of the book they're in)
David Crystal is an encylopedist. His 1-volume language encyclopedias
are the best single source for linguistic information I've ever found.
They should be in every library.
Crystal Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language
Crystal Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
There are a lot of other encyclopedias of linguistics. If you want to
go beyond 1 volume, the next best is Oxford's International Encyclopedia
of Linguistics, in 4 volumes.
This is exactly what it says it is. 50 fact-filled articles.
Comrie The World's Major Languages
The Summer Institute of Linguistics is the largest linguistic fieldwork
organization in the world. They publish a lot of books, among them one
that gives some information about *every* language in the world.
SIL The Ethnologue
(This is also available on the Web, by the way; the URL is
and the URL for the SIL itself is
More language and linguistic URLs are available at
Another book along those lines is the Voegelins':
Voegelin and Voegelin Languages of the World
Imagine a Roget-style thesaurus of the roots of all the Indo-European
languages, with commentary and interpolations, all authoritatively
referenced. A unique and fascinating book, now available in paperback in
a reduced (but readable) format.
Buck Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal I-E Languages
This is the list of Indo-European roots from the AmH dictionary,
published separately and cross-referenced with every word in the
dictionary derived from them. It's now out of print, alas.
Watkins American Heritage Dictionary Book of I-E Roots (#)
This is a recent and very valuable book, laying out all the linguistic,
mythological, and archeological evidence on the early Indo-Europeans.
Mallory In Search of the Indo-Europeans
A self-help book by a linguist; quite interesting and well-written.
Elgin The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense
This is the book that launched the phrase "mere semantics".
See Bolinger's Language: The Loaded Weapon for more context.
Chase The Tyranny of Words (#)
John M. Ellis is a German professor at UC Santa Cruz who's come out
with some recent books that are marvels of clear, cogent writing on
Ellis Against Deconstruction
Ellis Language, Thought, and Logic
A very valuable work, this is a collection of specially-written
articles on all aspects of language in the USA. Good statistics.
Ferguson & Heath Language in the USA
Charles Fillmore is the best writer in modern linguistics. He doesn't
write many books, but here's one. It's fascinating work, very amusing
and enlightening (who'd've thought "come" and "go" were so complex?).
Fillmore Santa Cruz Lectures on Deixis
There's a surprising amount of useful linguistic information,
well presented and thoroughly cross-referenced, in this. Plus,
of course, it's terribly amusing.
Raymond The New Hacker's Dictionary
(This is also available on the Web, where it goes under its
more common name of The Jargon File)
These are standard authorities on semantics (meaning) and pragmatics
(contextual meaning). Both are very informative, though technical.
Frawley Linguistic Semantics
Here are some good English grammars. McCawley's is quite modern.
Jespersen A Modern English Grammar (7 vol: the OED of syntax)
Jespersen Essentials of English Grammar (1 vol: the COED of syntax)
Greenbaum A College Grammar of English (the Merriam-Webster of syntax)
McCawley The Syntactic Structures of English (2 vol, unabridged)
Desmond Morris is a biologist who specializes in human behavior,
including communication. Three of his most fascinating books
(profusely illustrated) are:
Bill Labov is the dean of American sociolinguists. He's written a lot of
interesting things; perhaps the most interesting for a general audience
is a book (written with a psychotherapist) analyzing the language use of
one psychotherapy session.
Labov and Fanshel Therapeutic Discourse
Erving Goffman's work in the sociology of language is seminal.
This is a very readable and representative piece.
Goffman Forms of Talk
A book that is at the same time very popular, very influential, and very
readable; and on an extremely important topic.
Lakoff & Johnson Metaphors We Live By
Mario Pei wrote a lot of popular books on language in the 50's and 60's.
They're mostly pretty good and your library probably already has some.
One of the most useful and interesting is about Esperanto and its ilk:
Pei One Language for the World (#)
Deborah Tannen's popular books are very good linguistics. In particular,
You Just Don't Understand should be put in the hands of every literate
American at the onset of puberty, in my opinion.
Tannen Talking from 9 to 5
Tannen That's Not What I Meant
Tannen You Just Don't Understand
Lewis Thomas's essays are deservedly popular. Less well known is his
avocation as Indo-Europeanist. This is a collection of essays about
Proto-Indo-European roots. Delightful.
Thomas Etc, Etc: Notes of a Word Watcher
Extremely interesting writings. Read what Whorf *really* said.
Whorf Language, Thought, and Reality
Linguists like a good joke as much as anybody. Here are a couple of
famous language humor books. The first is a collection of outrageous
articles dedicated to Jim McCawley:
Zwicky et al Studies Out in Left Field
and the second is a collection of humorous columns on matters linguistic:
Pullum The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax
This one is uncategorizable; it could be in linguistics, Chinese
language, gastronomy, or possibly humor. Jim McCawley tries to teach
the reader just enough Chinese characters to order Chinese food. All
the exercises are menus. The most readable and interesting treatment of
Chinese characters available in English. Includes a dictionary.
McCawley The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters
Jim Quinn's amusing little book is the antiparticle to the pop
grammarians; he actually looks things up instead of just fulminating.
Quinn American Tongue and Cheek (#)
Baugh A History of the English Language - the standard work
Harris The Linguistics Wars - watch the linguists fight; good history
Hogben The Loom of Language (#) - an oldie but goodie
Jespersen Growth and Structure of the English Language - another standard
Palmer The English Verb - a classic study
Pike Phonetics - another oldie but goodie
Sampson Writing Systems - quite good on Chinese, Korean & Japanese
Aside from the books above, I'd say any public library in the U.S. ought
to contain at least one complete set -- from beginner to advanced -- of
a good English as a Second Language textbook series. There are many.
I am most familiar with and can recommend the ones from Michigan's
English Language Institute, published by the University of Michigan
Press. But they're by no means the only ones.
-John Lawler More grammar
Linguistics Program University of Michigan
"..and, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing."