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u/Davylow · 3 pointsr/linguistics

Historical linguistics was too deep for me too until I listened to a podcast on the subject, and after the first 20 episodes I was so fascinated I went back and listened to them again. Now this week I'm nearing the end of those for the second time, but as of today there are over 70 episodes total. Anyway, to your questions:

> If humans have been in Europe for hundreds of thousands of years, how could so many languages over the continent be connected to a single language spoken so recently?

Language is spread from cultures that dominate or influence other cultures for whatever reason: winning wars, economic power, being a key trading partner, religious influence, technological influence, etc. Or it could just be the speakers of the language moving from one place to a previously unoccupied place. In the case of PIE the reasons kept changing over the years, but in the beginning it spread because of Economic and military power. The PIE people had (a) domesticated horses, which other peoples did not, (b) a genetic mutation for lactose tolerance which allowed them to produce and consume much more calories per acre, (c) wool/weaving technology since their latitude caused their domesticated sheep to grow longer wool. They therefore also had (d) the luxury of being isolated from other cultures due to their ability to live on the Eurasian steppes where others could not, so they had a long time to expand their power and population without interference. All of this turned into military might and economic advantages that were unsurpassed in the region and allowed them to invade and dominate a successively wider area. In later years some of the other language-spreading factors also came into play.

> When we theorize about PIE, do we also theorize about neighboring dialects?

Yes. But in this case the PIE culture tended to wipe out their neighbors without much blending of the conquered languages, because that was their style and they could pull it off. Remember all those advantages they had. After the establishment of the language families (Hellenic, Italic, Germanic, Celtic, Indic, Balto-Slavic, etc) you see some blending with other languages because there was cultural mixing instead of just complete domination.

> A lot people think it was spoken by a people in the Caucuses, right?

More likely North of the Caucasus mountains. Here's a map.

> So do they think that this one language was basically a superstrate language, dominating everywhere from England to Iran (with help from people like the Romans)...?

Yes, that is exactly what they think. It was a superstrate language beginning in the Eurasion steppes that spread into a huge multi-continental region. What's interesting about English in particular is that it is composed of several different offspring of the original PIE: Germanic, Italic, Hellenic and Celtic. So English represents a re-merging of the original proto-language to a great extent.

> ...or was *PIE a part of a contemporary language family that already covered a great deal of land? If that's true, successful theorizing about PIE would land us at one really random lect of a language spoken ~three thousand years ago. Right?

There is a tremendous amount of evidence; linguistic, archeological and historic, that refutes this possibility.

By the way I just bought this book which I plan to read over the Christmas break. It was recommended in the podcast I mentioned earlier.

Edit: Spelling (photo → proto) and a little grammatical clarity

u/ape_unit · 2 pointsr/linguistics

My life would be amazing if I wasn't a huge pedant, but I'm going to go another round on this. Hopefully we can close this discussion afterwards.

Let's start at the beginning. You say:

>The present day surfice forms are actually identical in Slavic and proto- Dravidian/Tamil 'kur-u' and 'kur-va' "voice" resp. "voice-less".

Right. But the other examples you've cited aren't at all identical, and so my previous description of your phonetic basis for these relationships is more or less correct, right? Or are we down to just these Slavic examples now?

If so, you should realize that most languages share at least a few sounds (the /k/ and /u/ sound being present in the vast majority of the world's languages, and some sort of rhotic r-like sound in a fair share as well). Given the enormous number of words needed in most languages, and the limited set of phonetically possible words in most languages, there's going to be many unrelated languages that have a few similar or identical words. I believe it's John McWhorter, in some recent editions of his book The Power of Babel, who provides a lengthy list of words which have similar form and meaning but which come from demonstrably unrelated languages, or which can be shown to have formed recently, by coincidence. He does this specifically to explain why this isn't a reliable way of showing that languages are related.

>I don't have a theory, it's a sound and meaning comparison with some analogies.

Then what have we been discussing for the past few days? You've been fairly intensely debating with me (and now a few other people, it seems) to prove that there's a relationship between a very specific set of languages, based on a very specific set of words which appear similar. You started this thread by saying that people should more commonly acknowledge that Tamil influenced PIE. Both of these would be theories. That's why we're having this discussion. If you have no opinion on this matter, why have you been defending it?

For what it's worth, my understanding of your most recent theory is that it's this:

  • You believe that Indo-European languages, some Uralic languages, and the Dravidian languages share a relatively recent common ancestor. This ancestor is recent enough that the relationship can be demonstrated by a number of words in European languages and Sanskrit which resemble the Tamil word kuru in meaning and shape. Across these languages, this root has been realized in numerous different ways, often with meanings relating to bird, voice or a derogatory term.

    If I'm wrong on the details, correct me, but regardless, that's a theory, and a big one. This discussion has been going on for quite a while and it's all here on this thread if you want to review. It really doesn't look like you're just presenting a collection of comparisons, but that you're trying to argue for a specific thesis about the reason for these comparisons.

    On the other hand, if you're trying to say that you don't support those points I've listed above anymore, that's fine. But if you've backed away from your hypothesis in light of what's been said here, it would behoove you to graciously admit your evidence isn't as strong as you'd initially assumed. Pretending that you've not actually been promoting this theory is a pretty weak way out.

    Now, let's get back to the discussion.

    >The historical reconstruction of 'guru' to PIE heavy is a formal reconstruction and there is no meaningful semantic link behind it while this is not the case if we accept there was a common shared Eurasian ancestor between IE and Dravidian languages claimed by the study.

    I believe I've provided evidence here that guru was understood to be an ordinary word for "heavy" in Sanskrit, even at the time in which its other, better-known, meaning was coined.

    >However the study does not by default acknowledge linguistic historical reconstruction (often contradictory and highly hypothetical for a variety of reasons) to be 100% precise but does provide for and give green light for searching cross-family references no matter what some linguists think.

    First of all, no one thinks that we shouldn't be searching for cross-family references. Linguists are constantly trying to prove that languages are related in larger and larger families. The proposed Dene-Yeniseian family is one of the more interesting larger families to be well-received recently, though it's not yet consistently regarded as having been proven. The problem is that linguists require really, really solid scientific proof. And since you're on /r/linguistics, it might suit you to get less defensive when people ask for it from you (though I apologize about the people who are just acting like assholes instead of contributing actual points - they weren't my doing).

    Second, even if we do accept the study as valid (which I don't) it makes very specific claims about what sort of words are habitually "ultraconserved" and should be used as evidence for "deep language ancestry". It doesn't even remotely suggest that any pair of similar sounding words would constitute this kind of evidence. Frankly, your examples don't seem to fall within the scope of its very narrow claims.

    I do want to acknowledge that it is absolutely true that we "might as well explore the hypothesis of [a] Eurasian common linguistic superfamily". Linguists have been debating many hypotheses for what this - or other, non-Eurasian superfamilies - could look like for years. That's not an issue. The issue is that I don't think that the evidence you're presenting demonstrates any linguistic superfamily. I think it's better explained by the current etymologies we already have, not the ones your propose. I also think there's no Tamil influence on PIE, and that Proto-Dravidian and PIE, if related, are removed by too much time and history to demonstrate a linkage by pointing to a tiny set of similar words. Those are points that I've been trying to make for some time now, and it seems like I'm getting a lot of agreement on them from others - no surprise, as they're what pretty much any linguist would think.

    As for the "contradictory and highly hypothetical" nature of linguistic reconstruction, that's not really the case either. While there's debate about the validity of certain proposed families (e.g. Altaic), the debate stems from issues around insufficient data, or proposals that suggest relationships across very long periods of time, to a degree in which we can no longer accurately trace the sound changes which must have occurred. No one doubts the accuracy of reconstruction as a method, just its applicability to certain cases.

    Over appropriate periods of time, and with enough data, linguistic reconstruction is remarkably accurate. I've referenced this briefly before, but the PIE laryngeals are a great example. Saussure, one of the fathers of modern linguistics, suggested in 1879 that PIE had a certain set of sounds which hadn't survived into any descendant language, based on evidence from sound correspondences across modern Indo-European languages (this is the kind of data standard reconstruction methods use). Sure enough, when we discovered a previously unknown ancient Indo-European language, Hittite, decades later, we found direct evidence that PIE had sounds in the positions predicted by Saussure based on evidence from one of the oldest Indo-European languages we'd ever seen. Essentially, rather than being "hypothetical" or "speculative", the present understanding is that linguistic reconstruction is demonstrably accurate enough to predict how data from languages we've never seen will look.

    Unfortunately for your theory, it's your evidence that's "highly speculative". The only third party evidence is a forum posting which even you have discredited now, and a study which doesn't really have all that much to do with your theory. Basically, you have no real scientific evidence to support your point. The current reconstructions for these words have a much greater weight of real, scientific evidence behind them.

    This is a forum about a science called linguistics. I certainly don't think anyone needs to be interested in linguistics. But if you're posting on this forum, there's a reasonable expectation that everyone else is interested in linguistics and knowledgeable of the field. Getting annoyed because people with knowledge of the field disagree with you based on this science is basically the definition of "butt hurt".

    TL;DR No tl;dr. Read it.
u/snifty · 5 pointsr/linguistics


Linguistics is awesome :)

Stuff I'd recommend:

"Language: The Study of Speech" by Edward Sapir. It's old, but it's a classic. I think it's a good introduction to the "mindset" of a linguist. Also available online.

For historical linguistics, I used Adorno as an undergrad:

There's a more recent book by the late, great Larry Trask (hmm, would like a copy!)

Trask is a very accessible writer, IMHO one of the best paths into linguistics:

"Language: The Basics", in particular, would be a great way to start.

For phonetics, I'm a fan of:

Which is a tour of every language sound on the planet. But I believe Ladefoged (also great, and unfortunately also late) has a more basic introduction to phonetics and phonology out there... again, you can't go wrong with his stuff.

When you start talking about syntactic theory, you're really getting out of my own area of experience, because I never liked all that stuff! The problem is there's so damn much of it, and I am unqualified to point you in a particular direction.

For me, the single most revealing course in my undergraduate career was a project to describe the phonology of a language I didn't speak. I really regret that I didn't have time to do a proper fieldmethods course and actually analyze the grammar and vocabulary of a language as well. But I do it all the time on my own.

I think it was Mary Haas that said something like "You're not a real linguist until you've written a grammar and a dictionary." By that criterion I'm no linguist, but the point is clear enough: don't be afraid to investigate real linguistic data on your own, with or without a theoretical framework.

Anyway, have fun!

u/Stargaters · 2 pointsr/linguistics

I'm going to reply to this in a rather obtuse and general manner and just link with as many resources as I can, as I don't currently have time to fully explore the subject, and I'm not overly familiar with the philosophy of language and/or communication studies.

As to your opening comments, "how communication takes place and forms" makes me think you'd be really interested in Conversational Analysis - this Wiki article sources a lot of excellent resources.

  1. Yes, of course, we both study language. I'm sorry I can't speak overly to specifics here, I don't know exactly where they intersect. I would guess somewhere in the Anthropological Ling, CogSci, or Sociolinguistics specializations, though I could most definitely be wrong here.

  2. Pragmatics and Semantics are your best bets here, and likely the Conversation Analysis page I've already linked.

  3. Wiki has an OK overview, but to me it has always seemed very fragmented and confusing. The Linguistics Society of America has a good Why Should I Major in Linguistics? page, though I'm not sure it's exactly what you're looking for. There is also this Linguistics Careers PDF that I stumbled across a while back that might have some useful info for you. Honestly, taking an Intro to Ling class is a good place to start if you're interested, as it's about the only way to really get a good grasp. You could also try just buying a textbook for a Ling 101 class, or browsing a nearby (University) Library's linguistics section. If you want a book, the most basic overview I can find on my shelf (most of the classes I take now are very specialized) is The Linguistic Wars, which does a good job of summing up the last 50 years of Linguistics in a decently accessible format without going overboard. David Crystal's Encyclopedia of Language is also interesting, but it's not really a page turner IMO. Encyclopedia is the right word.

    I'd be happy to answer more questions if you have any, though I am sorry I am not more familiar with Communication Studies and Philosophy of Language.
u/sansordhinn · 2 pointsr/linguistics

I don't think it's necessary, no. But if you're the kind of person that benefits from this kind of thing, it can be beneficial. Sorry for being tautological =)

If you was about to learn new swimming styles, are you the kind of person who would go to the library and research on books about sports science as applied to swimming? If learning the guitar, do you brush up on music theory and try to understand the patterns of notes and chords in the fretboard? Before reading poetry, do you study about metrical forms and the history of styles? If you're that kind of person, you might have fun studying some linguistics and then trying to apply it to the languages you learn. Ocasionally it might even be useful!

As for book recommendations, I think one of the most useful areas you can investigate is phonetics and phonology, the study of linguistic sounds. Spoken languages are made of sounds that you hear, and you decode writing into sort-of "mental sounds" (assuming you're not congenitally deaf). Unfortunately these two processes have complications.

  • Adult non-natives often fail to perceive and produce sounds in the new language (L2) that aren't present in their mother tongue (L1).

    Due to personal experience, I'm a supporter of the theory that this can be remedied by explicitly learning to notice the different sounds (Schmidt's Noticing Hypothesis). That means you need to understand how you yourself produce linguistic sounds, so that you can adapt your vocal gestures to those of other languages.

    To be able to do that, first of all, you have to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). No, seriously, you need it. The Wikipedia articles are quite decent, and so is IPA's own handbook. Wikipedia also has recordings for all sounds—and so does this interactive table. Some beginners think of IPA as a writing system, and try to learn to "read" it as a whole. This is a mistake. Think of it as a table of possible sounds, classified on various dimensions (in the case of consonants, which are easier to introspect, there are three: place, manner, and voice). Once you understand how each dimension explains part of a gesture, the values of each symbol become a recipe of how to produce it: do this with my tongue here, turn on voice, and… voilà!

    If you're familiar with language X, look at the Wikipedia article "Phonology of X", and try to refer to the table and understand it by reproducing the sounds. (In the case of English, be sure to locate your own dialect/accent). Then try to understand the corresponding articles for the languages you're learning. You don't need to care about the rest of the table.

    As you get familiar with the IPA, try to learn the basics of articulatory phonetics and phonology. Online articles are probably good enough to help with language learning, but if you like technical books and want to dig deeper, I benefited a lot this and this and this one. If and only if you like physics, then this too.

  • It's nontrivial to deduce the sounds from the writing (witness how much trouble computer people have with speech synthesis). All writing systems assume that you already know the language. Some assume just a little, like Finnish or Czech (and are therefore foreign-friendly); and some are basically unpredictable, like English and French; most are somewhere in-between.

    The best solution to this is to make sure you get lots and lots and lots of exposure to the spoken language. If you can learn the spoken language before writing, so much the better (it's how natives learn, after all). If you're curious about how writing systems work, I'd recommend Rogers as a first stop, but I think the Cree/Blackfoot sillabaries shouldn't give you any trouble.

u/profeNY · 2 pointsr/linguistics

I strongly recommend Ohio State University's book Language Files. If you buy the most recent edition it is fairly expensive, but if you go back a few editions you can get "very good" used copies for under $15. The Table of Contents for the current edition is here and gives you a good feeling for how much ground it covers. Each section has clear explanations and some examples to work through. It gives you a good understanding of what it's like to actually DO linguistics.

I recommended this book to someone a few years back who gave me Reddit Gold in return. It really is that good!

Edit: you have a good chance of finding this book in a local library (public or academic) because it is so popular. Look for it on

u/anuvakya · 4 pointsr/linguistics

Not so casual and perhaps not exactly what you're looking for, but definitely read the Linguistics Wars by Randy A Harris. It's enjoyable, extremely rigorous (it came out of Harris's PhD dissertation) and very, very insightful: it digs really deep into one of the most controversial period of linguistics in the United States. The author even went through underground notes. The best part about it is that it doesn't require you to be a linguist but it's even better if you are; a lot of things in there you simply can't get from modern textbooks and you get to learn how linguistic ideas originated and evolved. He has a second edition coming out so you might wanna wait for that.

For something perhaps surprising and illuminating: read Metaphors We Live By by Lakoff and Johnson. Most people I know were impressed at how pervasive metaphors actually are in language and cognition. It's very intuitive and sensible once you get the gist of it. This one is quite specific though.

Finally, although now I don't quite agree with it, Language Instinct is what lured me into linguistics so definitely check it out.

These books are quite old now and obviously linguists know much more (although not nearly enough) about language today than they did back then. Claims are also often exaggerated (with the exception of the first one, I think) but they're fun to read and will interest you for sure.

u/cairo140 · 9 pointsr/linguistics

From what I've heard, your best choice for an all-encompassing teach-yourself-linguistics book is the Language Files from Ohio State, which has a pretty big linguistics major.

If you want a more layman's introduction you can check out Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. The guy did a lecture at my school just yesterday, and he's quite good at explaining sociolinguistic concepts in everyday language. His current shtick is on analyzing language use. You can see a pretty cool video (an illustrated form of an excerpt from his current lecture) on Youtube.

If you want to go deeper, you might want to find book lists from a particular university. My university doesn't offer its lists publicly, but Ohio State does.

With a few exceptions (computational and certain sorts of applied linguistics like SLP), most linguistics graduate programs don't have specific technical expectations for students coming in. I'd just ask around. If you're picking a grad school, unless there's a compelling reason to stay close to home, you shouldn't be afraid to explore around the country. You'll end up getting paid pretty much the same amount anywhere if you're a linguistics grad student. My own school, Cornell University, has a lot of historical linguistics going on, especially Indo-Europeanist stuff, which you might be inclined to do as an anthropologist.

Finally, OCW has an abundance of linguistics courses available. Follow along with a few of those, although know that linguistics itself is a very diverse field that I can most closely analogize to biology. If you're studying pragmatics and sociolinguistics, you may do extremely well without ever knowing how to read a phonetic waveform. Just poke around and see what you like.

Do all that, and you'll be quite well prepared, and put a paper and a couple conferences under your belt as an undergraduate (at least in the Northeast, there are a few public undergraduate research conferences) and you should be no less prepared than your run-of-the-mill grad school-destined linguistics student.

u/MuskratRambler · 1 pointr/linguistics

If you mean get into, as in you want to be interested but just can't find the motivation, what got me interested was reading about it. Learn from the best. Here are some good ones on documentation itself (I guess more on the eminence of languages dying and the need for documentation):

  • Linguistic Fieldwork—Claire Bowern

  • When Languages DieDavid Harrison

  • Vanishing Voices—Daniel Nettle & Suzanne Romaine

  • Endangered Languages—Sarah G. Thomason

    Fieldwork is often closely associated with typology, so here are some books that explain some of what's possible in the world's languages:

  • Describing Morphosyntax—Thomas Payne

  • Ergativity—R.M.W. Dixon

  • Changing Valency—R.M.W. Dixon & Alexandra Aikhenvald

    And then there are reference grammars, often the fruits of fieldwork. Here are some good ones I've gone through:

  • A Grammar of Tariana—Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald

  • A Grammar of Hup—Patience Epps

  • Basically any other one in the Mouton Grammar Library, plus here are some free ones from Language Science Press.

    Then again, if you mean get into it meaning what language should you pick and what part of the world, that's a harder question to answer. I feel like languages just sort of happen to people: they know someone who happens to come from a community of minority language speakers, or they have a friend who says they ran into an understudied language while abroad, or you yourself happened to live in that part of the world for whatever reason. It's hard to go study a language out of the blue because you need an "in" somehow, which is hard to purposely get, I think.
u/l33t_sas · 4 pointsr/linguistics

As far as I know, the most popular introductory textbook is Fromkin's. You can get an older edition for cheaper. I studied with the 5th edition less than 3 years ago and it was fine. For something less unwieldy and more practical to carry around with you, Barry Blake's All About Language is really good. Less than 300 pages and manages to cover a huge amount of stuff clearly.

Personally, I think that historical linguistics is a really fun and relatively easy way to get into Linguistics as a whole so I'd recommend Trask's Historical Linguistics. I know that the Campbell and Crowley textbooks are also very popular, but I don't have personal experience with them. Maybe somebody else can weigh in on which is easiest for a beginner?

I have to plug my professor Kate Burridge here who has written some excellent pop-linguistics books: Gifts of the Gob, Weeds in the Garden of Words and Blooming English. Her more serious books are also written in a highly accessible manner and she is probably one of the world's experts on Euphemism and taboo. Here's a clip of her in action.

Some fun linguistics-related videos:

TED - The Uncanny Science of Linguistic Reconstruction

Pinker on Swearing

David Crystal on British tv

Another fun way to learn would be to listen to this song and look up all the terms used in it.

u/ebinsugewa · 4 pointsr/linguistics

Everything in linguistics is basicially a logic puzzle. You must prove that the data justifies your conclusion, whatever that conclusion may be. You find data in research about your subject, or from first-hand fieldwork where you're interviewing a speaker of your language. Undergrad research doesn't have to be splitting the atom, you're making too big a deal of this. Follow the format of other research you can find - believe me, 100 pages sounds like a lot, but after data formatting and some prose, it's a lot less than you think.

Essentially what you're trying to do is apply a guided roadmap to the thing that you've learned about, such that someone else can learn from it. From the complete basics to the conclusions, you should find an interesting question or a few about the field that you studied. What do you feel is interesting the dataset didn't cover? Maybe there was something that was covered, but not in enough detail for your liking? In simply reading data you should find these sort of interesting questions as you read. Try to poke holes in the research you read just as a thought exercise, does the data support it? These holes may spark a topic for you to get interested in.

It sounds like you might be struggling with the lack of basics. Is that correct? It sounds like a lot of your classes may have been taught by non-linguists stuck in these teaching positions, unfortunately. Can you read/write IPA? How much actual linguistics have you studied as part of your degree? Knowing this would allow me to be more helpful. If it's not a lot, try finding some introductory textbooks in various fields, like this for morphology, or this for syntax. Search through syllabi posted for various ling courses at BU/MIT/wherever aind see which texts are avaiable to you. Work through these intros to the topics and see if you can find some features or processes that interest you.

u/millionsofcats · 5 pointsr/linguistics

u/WavesWashSands made some good suggestions, but they're are focused on linguistic theory rather than the grammar of English. Many of the concepts they cover apply to English too, but they might not do exactly what you want. You would also need a good grammar of English. I have heard good things about this one:

This is a descriptive grammar, which means that its purpose is to describe English. It's not a lesson book that tells you how to improve your English.

If you're worried about your grammar - well, it's fine. I looked over your post history and you don't look like you have any issues that need language learning help. You know this stuff, intuitively, as a speaker of English. I suspect that what you're really worried about is your ability to use (sensible, logical, coherent) rhetoric and an appropriate writing style. This is largely outside of the realm of linguistics. You'd want to look at resources on rhetoric and composition.

From a personal standpoint, I think basic training/learning in philosophy is a very good way to learn the principles of logical argumentation - that may also be something to pursue.

That's not to say you shouldn't learn about grammar! I think it's very useful and interesting.

u/[deleted] · 3 pointsr/linguistics

I'd suggest getting an intro textbook to (first, L1) language acquisition. This is the one we use at our university--pricey, yes, but I've heard it's excellent.

I always recommend Steven Pinker as an approachable start to learning about linguistics. Reading his books before I started university really got me into thinking like a linguist and about the wonder of language. The Language Instinct will help you begin to understand what it is we do when we acquire this amazingly complex tool. It's not all about acquisition, but a large part of it is.

I tried to find some open courseware on the subject, with no luck. MIT's language acquisition course isn't available online, and I couldn't find another university with such a course that offers open courseware. Try searching on iTunes U. That being said, however, you might need to take at least an intro to linguistics course, if you haven't already, to understand the terms and the approach needed to study language acquisition.

Since you're at university, you have access to academic publications free of charge, as well as your library. Use these resources. As far as articles go, try and find overviews of developments in language acquisition research over the past 20 years or so. The field has exploded with the advent of more and more advanced neuroimaging techniques, so I'd recommend staying in a recent timeframe so as not to get overwhelmed with possibly outdated theories.

u/LGBTerrific · 2 pointsr/linguistics

A few years ago, I made a language for an independent study at my university. It mostly consisted of translating the Tower of Babel into the language. It was something that showed my language had at least limited use.

I've tried twice since then to create another language, somewhat based off my previous work- but mostly trying out new things, doing more research than before, etc. It hasn't been successful. I keep getting indecisive about things.

I've been using The Language Construction Kit as a reference - especially the book version. It's a pretty decent book that does cover things more in detail than the site (plus, very handy to carry around). How to Create a Language is another useful site. These are great sources for going through the process of making a language (in the book, the author includes part of a grammar on one of his languages, and includes commentary on the decisions and mistakes he made).

I also really love Describing Morphosyntax. It's much more detailed than any of the above- as it's more aimed for linguists. It goes through the process of things to look for in a language when documenting it. It explains variation of the different aspects of grammar, which I've found very helpful to determine ideas to incorporate for my language.

Livejournal's Conlangs community is another good resource.

Edit (#4?) I just found the Conlangs Wikia (check out the conlangs category or list of conlangs to see example languages)

u/LittleKey · 2 pointsr/linguistics

Are you sure about that? I'm not very learned yet, but I read one of John McWhorter's books and pretty much the whole thing is him talking about how there are certain grammatical concepts like 'do' that had to come from Celtic languages. After all it's a pretty unique thing and the Celtic languages are the only ones that have something just like it. And in any case, Early Modern English sounds like way too late for it to appear. I think I remember reading that those grammatical trends were incorporated into spoken English pretty much immediately, although they didn't show up in writing until a couple centuries after the Norman Invasion, when people started to actually write in English again.

u/ladyhollyhock · 2 pointsr/linguistics

Like Aksalon said, Peter Ladefoged's website will be your best friend. I've also suggested this book before. It's really clear in its explanations and, a plus for someone who's not fully committed to throwing money into text books yet, it's cheap :)

If you decide linguistics is something you might consider as a major in college, it definitely wouldn't hurt to try e-mailing a professor at the university you want to attend whose work you find interesting. If you can tell from the responses you're getting here, us linguistics people really like to talk about our work! :) Even those of us who aren't professors!

u/Kinbensha · 2 pointsr/linguistics

Language Myths could be a good start. It's a collection of essays written by linguists about some common misconceptions about language and how it works. It covers some really common myths, such as the "Eskimo language has thousands of words for snow" nonsense, and covers some sociolinguistic things like people's perception of language and the idea of prestige. It's written for people without a linguistics background.

If you would prefer something more akin to a university introduction course in linguistics rather than a coffee table book, try reading Language Files. Personally, I think it's a little too shallow, even for an introduction, but maybe you'd like it.

If you'd like to save the effort and money and just read Wikipedia pages, there are a ton of relevant ones.


Problems with Prescriptivism




Or, a single person's dialect: Idiolect


Some dialects of English that some people might consider "incorrect":

African American English Vernacular

Chicano English


Jamaican English

Standard Singaporean English

If you have any more questions, please let me know. I'd be more than happy to do anything I can to help.

u/Choosing_is_a_sin · 2 pointsr/linguistics

When we encounter new phenomena, it's easiest to characterize them in terms of phenomena we already know, thus we give them labels. The new labels will usually be metaphorical extensions of existing words (e.g. a network, a pulse, a current, an atmosphere of pressure), or new words that come from resources already existing in the language. To make new words we can:

  • make compounds, which combine two or more words (e.g. plane mirror, transverse wave; there's also a type of compound called the neoclassical compound in which the elements come from Greek or Latin but not in a way that the languages would have used them, like corpus callosum from Latin words meaning 'firm body' or eukaryote which combines Greek and Latin roots meaning 'true kernel')

  • we can derive new words by adding affixes (e.g. acceleration from accelerate)

  • we can coin new words (e.g. ohm named after a scientist and is a unit of resistance, and mho, the inverse of the word ohm and a unit of conductivity -- the inverse of resistance)

  • we can clip words (e.g. gene from genetic, the adjectival form of the noun genesis)

    I get the impression that you're more interested in the metaphors of science. If you want an introduction to metaphor, Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors we live by might be of interest to you. More directly relevant is Making Truth: Metaphor in Science by Theodore L. Brown. I haven't read the second one, and it's not written by a linguist, but it's written by a professor emeritus of chemistry so my guess is that it's probably well-researched from the science perspective and will give you some insight.

    EDIT: Missed a bullet point.
u/RedStarRising · 3 pointsr/linguistics

Start with Wikipedia. For linguistics is pretty good and some of my professors have suggested I used to get familiar with topics before I research them a bit a more. The nice thing about wikipedia articles is if you are interested in reading more you can just go to the articles and books they cite at the bottom. I would also suggest you check out Describing Morphosyntax. It gives a really good introduction to various topics and just all around interesting.

Someone on here suggested the Language Construction Kit and I would also suggest that because even though it might now be the best introduction out there it will introduce you to the magical world of conlanging. For me if it wasn't for conlanging I probably wouldn't have been as motivated to learn linguistic topics and to get familiar with a wide range of languages.

u/endotosev · 5 pointsr/linguistics

My Syntax class uses Andrew Carnie's "Syntax: A Generative Introduction".. Granted, we haven't made it past chapter 6 yet; but I believe this book goes a bit further than X-Bar, as that is covered in chapter 7. Here's the link for it on Amazon:
To be honest, this book is really helpful and clear; it's one of the first dense books that I have enjoyed reading. May be too simple for you, but it does get into some advanced syntax.

u/PumpkinCrook · 1 pointr/linguistics

I'll second the recommendation of The Language Instinct. Pinker approaches it from the perspective of a cognitive scientist, but it's a good book if you want an overview of linguistics and linguistic theory (although some of his claims are controversial and as breads mentioned, it's somewhat outdated).

As for English syntax, I don't think there are any books out there intended for the layman, so your best bet would probably be to pick up an introductory textbook with a syntax unit. I'd recommend Language Files from the Ohio State University Press. It's an excellent and comprehensive introductory text, one of the best.

An Introduction to Language by Fromkin, Rodman, & Hyams is also well-regarded, but I haven't taught from it, so I can't speak to it personally.

u/bigbadathabaskanverb · 1 pointr/linguistics

My intro grad class read the following, so I think they're a good place to start:

The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice

Saving Languages

Reversing Language Shift

When Languages Die

In addition to many articles, but if it's articles you want, you can't go wrong with anything by Leanne Hinton.

If all you know right now is that you think you're interested in Endangered Languages, then read read read is really the best advice, so you can get an idea of what "the field" entails and start to find what interests you. What part of the world? What language family? What type of work - applied and/or academic? Are you interested more in documentation, description, or revitalization based work (most projects involve all three, but usually weighted a bit more toward one or the other)? And what subfield of linguistics do you want to specialize in? etc.

u/atla · 5 pointsr/linguistics

This was my introductory textbook. I found it pretty approachable, and you can wiki / google anything you don't understand. Pretty cheap, too (Amazon has it as only $40 or so new; you should be able to get it cheaper elsewhere).

If you don't know IPA, I found this really useful for audio clips. Also, figuring out how they're made isn't that difficult, and it makes understanding the different sounds easier.

You might also want to check out a few books from your library. I've heard good things about Stephen Pinker's The Language Instinct. You can find other book recommendations elsewhere on the subreddit.

Google and Wikipedia are your friends. Google things about language that you're interested in, figure out what that issue is 'called', wiki that, look at the sources it gives, google more stuff... Simple English is your friend on wikipedia.

There's also this link in the sidebar, so you'll get more information there.

u/veritate_valeo · 6 pointsr/linguistics

I highly suggest you read the book The Unfolding of Language

It is one of my favorite books, readable to a layman yet delving into some pretty complex stuff in terms of grammatical complexity, phonology etc. It is basically an introduction to linguistics and morphology class nicely encapsulated in one very well-written book.

And it deals specifically with your question.

The author of the book analyzes linguistic creative destruction, that is, what we perceive to be the "erosion" of grammatical structures actually helps to build new ones over time. A good example he gives is the latin verb conjugation giving way to that in the romance languages. Latin loses the structures like amavero, I will love, whereas French takes the infinitive amare --> aimer and adds the verb avoir, have. So we get the complex French conjugation system wherein the future is denoted by "aimerai", "i will love", for example.

Anyway, I highly recommend that book if you ever have a few lazy days to read through it.

u/breads · 7 pointsr/linguistics

I would have to strongly caution against both Bill Bryson and Bragg's The Adventure of English. I like Bryson as much as the next guy--he's super easy to read--but PumpkinCrook's on the money with this one. As for Bragg... oof, what can I say? I read it before I had ever taken a Linguistics course and even then it bothered the hell out of me. The style is unscholarly to a fault and it's also mind-numbingly anglocentric (didn't you know that English is the most versatile and resilient language?!). It's fine, I guess, but you could do so much better.

I'd recommend The Origins and Development of the English Language or The Stories of English. The former is more of a textbook; and the latter is daunting in its size, I know, but it's so lovingly done that you can't fault him--with both books, you can more or less hop around according to your fancies.

As for general background, I'd second Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. It's over 15 years old by now and assuredly outdated, but it reads so easily and you learn so much (without devolving into the sloppiness of Bryson or Blagg!) that I must recommend it almost with affection.

u/seepeeyou · 20 pointsr/linguistics

Actually, most "professional academic linguists" don't create language learning tools at all. Theoretical linguists are busy analyzing data and coming up with theories about language. Experimental linguists are busy designing and running experiments to test these theories in the lab. Field linguists are off collecting more data to invigorate this cycle (and to document languages). And so on and so forth.

So (most) language learning books are not written by linguists in the standard, academic sense. In other words, "linguist" means something more specific than just language learning/teaching enthusiast, even though some (maybe many) linguists do enjoy learning and teaching languages.

What some professional linguists do, which may be of interest to you, is publish comprehensive descriptive grammars. They're not necessarily meant for learning a language; they're more for reference (for language learners and linguists alike). One book that comes to mind is the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston and Pullum (both linguists). Only problem is that, most likely, any descriptive grammar will actually be written in that very language, so for a beginner, it's unrealistic as a learning tool.

tl;dr Basically, as far as I can tell, the people best trained for creating language learning tools (linguists) actually don't because they're busy with (or interested in) other stuff, so the tools that are created are often created by people with insufficient training (and who probably do it mostly for the money), hence the poor quality. So it's not linguists who are dropping the ball!

u/cellrunetry · 1 pointr/linguistics

I can only speak for hist ling, but I've loved Trask's - detailed and the exercises can be challenging. I used Crowley/Bowern's in a class and found it a bit slower with not all the information you might want, though there are tons of examples from non-IE languages which is nice. Judging by Amazon another favorite seems to be Campbell's, though I don't have experience with it. I think all of these books would require some prior work in phonology/phonetics, though nothing you couldn't pick soon enough (they might even have a refresher sections, I can't recall).

u/alantrick · 2 pointsr/linguistics

I'd highly recommend The Structure of Language. It's not actually published yet, but we used a sort of preview version for my Syntax & Semantics course and I liked it. Also I know lots of people who like Describing Morphosyntax. I didn't like it a lot (probably because I didn't spend enough time reading it as I should have). It's quite thorough.

Edit: I just looked through Simpler Syntax on google books. It seems interesting, but I don't know if it would make a very good educational book. It's really more of a description of an individual syntactic theory.

u/kingkayvee · 7 pointsr/linguistics

This question has been asked before, so I recommend doing some searches on the sub.

The general summary is: we don't really know. There are various theories out there as to the origins of AAE. All of them have merits but also have biases. You can read about this on the AAVE wiki page.

A great book on AAE is Green's African American English: A Linguistic Introduction. I'm pretty sure the "Look inside" feature will let you read the preface "On accounting for the origin of AAE."

u/rdh2121 · 10 pointsr/linguistics

No problem, it was fun. :D

If you're interested in IE Historical Linguistics, you might want to check out Ben Fortson's awesome Introduction, though this is much more focused on the reconstructed language itself and the development of the individual daughter languages than in the history and culture of the original Indo-Europeans.

For more of a broad cultural history, you might want to check out Mallory's book, which is written in a very easy to read style.

u/kyrie-eleison · 3 pointsr/linguistics

My Intro Linguistics course used Ohio State's Language Files. I was very impressed with it, not just as an introductory text, but as a textbook in general. It has exercises at the end of each chapter. You can probably find a key online, but I (and I'm sure the rest of /r/linguistics) would be happy to help with any questions you have.

u/polareclipse · 1 pointr/linguistics

I recommend Language Files written by the faculty at the Ohio State University. It was my intro to linguistics book and it offers a very general yet thorough survey of all of the sub-fields of linguistics. It really is a fantastic book and I reference it frequently. Older editions will do if you are on a budget.

You could go Pinker, you could go Lagefoged, but really you're only going to be scratching the surface of very specific areas that way. Books like Pinker's are great for getting your mind wandering about language, though.

u/potterarchy · 1 pointr/linguistics

Yes, John McWhorter outlines that theory in part of his book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, which I discussed briefly awhile ago with /r/linguistics. It's a really interesting theory, definitely, and I think has some merit.

u/warrtooth · 2 pointsr/linguistics

if you're interested in book recommendations, I've been been reading the unfolding of language, which has some good discussion about the sort of processes that cause inflections to appear and disappear. I've found it to be a very easy and interesting read!

u/tendeuchen · 1 pointr/linguistics

This book is awesome and is exactly what you want to know. It goes into how language change and develop over time and how seemingly complex arbitrary sound shifts and grammatical patterns come about. Buy it!

Guy Deutscher - The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention

u/bri-an · 2 pointsr/linguistics

I learned traditional grammar when I learned Latin and Ancient Greek. As others
have said, learning a foreign language (especially a dead one) is a great way
to bulk up on grammatical knowledge in general... at least as long as the
foreign language is sufficiently similar to English. (For example, I'm not sure
if learning Mandarin would help your knowledge of English as much as learning,
say, German or Latin would, but maybe.)

That being said, if you want to learn standard, traditional, but up-to-date,
descriptive English grammar, I suggest Huddleston and Pullum's A Student's
Introduction to English
It's written by two highly respected and prolific linguists/grammarians. It's
based on their much more comprehensive tome The Cambridge Grammar of the

u/gnorrn · 3 pointsr/linguistics

Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction is what you want. Absolutely superb in every respect.

u/ButtaBeButtaFree · 15 pointsr/linguistics

So I know this sub is not particularly interested in cognitive linguistics, but I think the idea of conceptual metaphor beautifully explains the use of "literally".

The thesis of conceptual metaphor is that metaphor is ubiquitous in language use and understanding, and this kind of metaphor is used and understood unconsciously. Metaphors We Live By is the original source for a lot of these. So for example, communication is conceptualized as a conduit, thus we say things like "get the idea across", "transmit information", and so on without realizing they are metaphorical.

Another ubiquitous metaphor is that intensity can be conveyed by "realness" or "actuality." The OED shows that the word "really" was originally used frequently to describe the real presence (as opposed to the figurative presence) of Christ in the Eucharist. We see that it has alternatively been used as an intensifier for almost the same amount of time. Exactly the same thing is the case with "truly". Both of these words primarily meant "literally" but quickly acquired meaning as intensifiers. Why? Because of the conceptual metaphor that describing something as "real" can be to emphasize it, thus "that show was really out of this world" and "she is truly a diamond in the rough." Both of these violate the primary sense of "really" and "truly" because they're clearly non-literal. But, nobody has a problem with these because the metaphor is understood and its meaning processed unconsciously. This metaphor is cross-linguistic: "de verdad" in Spanish and "真的" in Mandarin.

This is exactly how "literally" acquired its meaning as an intensifier. Its primary meaning is "real", "actual", and "non-figurative", but our minds have this conceptual metaphor such that we can easily understand its meaning in a non-literal context. It is a metaphorical or non-literal use of "literal".

If this interpretation is right, what could we conclude?

  • It is more correct to say that the non-literal use of "literally" is metaphorical, rather hyperbolic.
  • Metaphors are understood and processed automatically in context. Nobody, not even the most Eichmannesque of grammar nazis, misunderstands the metaphorical use of "literally". Thus, language is not being destroyed.
  • The metaphor of "realness is intensity" has been used in other places for at least several hundred years, and the same people complaining about "literally" are not complaining about "really" and "truly", even though it part of the same phenomenon. So the ire for "literally" is hypocritical and irrational.
  • Comprehension and creative use of metaphor is a fundamental characteristic of human thought and language, so fighting this is literally the most futile thing one can do.
u/Jefffrommonmouth · 3 pointsr/linguistics

John McWhorter's book has a chapter on it. It's written for a popular audience, and it gives the standard arguments. Personally, I'm not convinced by it, but it's easy to read, that's for sure. A lot of scholarship on this can get quite technical, and it's quite easy to fool those who don't actually know a Brittonic language.

u/mambeu · 12 pointsr/linguistics

The best book, by far, is The Languages of Native North America by Marianne Mithun .

It is dense, but a book of this scope needs to be. Nevertheless I do think it is accessible to the interested layperson.

u/simen · 3 pointsr/linguistics

Depends on what parts of linguistics you're most interested in. I like morphology, so I'd recommend this.

u/blackberrydoughnuts · 23 pointsr/linguistics

No one's really answered your question - the idea that the vocabulary or structure of a language reflects a culture is called the Sapir-Whorf Thesis. The consensus of linguists today is that it is FALSE. The opposite of true. This tends to surprise non-linguists.

There's a book called "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax" which debunks the lie that the Inuit supposedly have lots of words for snow (they don't).

Basically this is a myth that won't die.

The answer to your question is no, language omissions don't give an indication of a culture's mindset.

u/holytriplem · 1 pointr/linguistics

Like I said, I find his theory dubious at best. He also suggested that the Grimm's Law shift which changed p to f was also due to Semitic influence, despite the fact that it is in fact a very common sound shift in all sorts of languages, and in fact occurred again in High German languages in the Middle Ages.

In case you were wondering, this is the book I'm referring to

u/vaaarr · 1 pointr/linguistics

The Sounds of the World's Languages by Ladefoged and Maddieson. You can also find audio of many of the sounds they bring up here.

The UCLA Phonetics Archive is also a fantastic archive of audio examples. You can hear all of the clicks in !Xóõ!

u/pyry · 1 pointr/linguistics

For AAVE, there's this book. It's awesome and very descriptive, too.

u/adlerchen · 1 pointr/linguistics

Pirahã is fairly analytic. While there are a good amount of suffixes that mark modality and aspect, there are no agreement patterns and those suffixes (I think) only have distribution in VPs. See The Handbook of Amazonian Languages vol. 1, 1986 for details. In addition, Mithun 1999's The Languages of Native North America reports that many of the Inuit trade pigeons were/are analytic.

u/CoconutDust · 6 pointsr/linguistics

"A way to intensity what you're saying" is your analysis or interpretation, and might not be correct. You should be careful not to jump to conclusions about the meaning of the construction.

In accordance with the other person's comment, which seems to nail it, the construction seems related more to expressing or beckoning familiarity rather than "more intensity".

Also, it has probably been popularized by rap and AAVE, given a new art, given a new life. So if you hear it more lately, that's probably due to cultural influence or momentum. But that's different than the construction itself "coming from" the dialect. Whereas, there are many great [other] expressions that entirely originate in African American English.

African American English: A Linguistic Introduction by Lisa Green is my go-to reference, but it was published before the rise of Twitter and doesn't contain reference to this use of "that".

u/nonesuch42 · 1 pointr/linguistics

I'm fairly certain all languages (even unwritten ones) have stuff like metaphor. That's basically the premise of Lakoff's Metaphors We Live By. And all languages have idioms/euphemisms as well (look at how people talk about death, bodily functions). One possible exception for a lot of things is ASL, which is notorious for avoiding euphemism (though this may be a feature of Deaf culture, not the language). ASL does have idioms etc. though.

A language without figures of speech. This sounds like a good scifi premise. Actually, it sounds a lot like China Mieville's Embassytown.

u/bitparity · 1 pointr/linguistics

I am going to respectfully disagree with you, as someone who is learning both.

Btw, perhaps I should further clarify that I am primarily focused on the reading/translation of the language, not the speaking. This may be an important factor I neglected to add.

I do not disagree that proximity is an aid. This is why French and English are very easy to learn. But Latin and English are two very different comparisons, and are farther in proximity.

As an example of what I was talking about with regards to syntax, there was a cited example in The Unfolding of Language that talked about how amazed Turkish teachers were at Japanese rapid acquisition of their language, in comparison to the difficulties they had with english.

Regardless of the controversy over whether or not turkish and japanese falls under the altaic family, it was clear that the common reason for the rapid acquisition was because of their similar SOV syntax, despite japanese not being an alphabetical language, and the large difference in vocabulary.

Syntax matters.

I think the difficulties of Chinese lie with the pedagogy, not its inherentness. When Greek was first taught to the humanists, it was an abysmal failure because of the lack of established teaching materials (cited from Sailing to Byzantium).

I would like to propose though, you take a crack at reading Chinese, ignoring the conversation. Tuttle has a good book that breaks down Chinese radical components, and should aid in memorization. This is the future I believe.

But I feel otherwise, we may just have to agree to disagree.

u/yamane10 · 2 pointsr/linguistics

I've just started reading Metaphors We Live By, and it seems pretty good so far. It argues that the human brain interprets the world through metaphors, viewing information in terms of how it relates to other concepts already known to the mind. That's all I can really say about it so far.

u/limetom · 3 pointsr/linguistics

For historical linguistics, I'd say the best text is Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell. Just his explanation of the Comparative Method alone is reason enough to read the book.

u/GypsySnowflake · 2 pointsr/linguistics

My introductory linguistics class in college used Language Files, 11th Edition. I still have it and enjoy looking through it once in a while.

u/Darcy783 · 6 pointsr/linguistics

I don’t have any PDFs, but your local or university library might have a copy of the syntax book I used when I had that class (both at undergrad and grad level). It’s called Syntax: A Generative Introduction by Andrew Carnie. Here’s a link to the paperback on Amazon, for reference:

And I just have to say that your professor not using a textbook is pretty dumb, especially at undergrad level. It’s important to have a reference you can look at and read to explain anything you don’t understand in class, and the prof should know that.

u/houseofpuppers · 12 pointsr/linguistics

I'm almost done reading "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language" and learned a lot about the Steppe theory. It's really interesting stuff.

u/jabexo · 1 pointr/linguistics

Start with:

u/Isodoros · 3 pointsr/linguistics

This was my Intro to Linguistics textbook; it does a good job of surveying the different fields.

u/mantra · 1 pointr/linguistics

This gets into Conceptual Metaphors and Lakeoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By. Lakeoff is a linguist.

Also Chinese is interesting in this respect: things in the past or future can be "above and below" (or "in front or behind").

Last week (上星期) and last month (上個月) are "above" (上) while next week (下週), next month (下個月) are "below" (下). And "before" and "in front" (前) or "after" and "rear"/"behind" (后) which is similar to English.

u/razlem · 5 pointsr/linguistics

Sure, check out one of the more recent editions of Andrew Carnie's Textbooks. Most professors I know use that for their intro to Syntax, so if you're a potential student it'll put you ahead of the game.

u/kanweniyu · 3 pointsr/linguistics

I am printing the hell out of this to put on my wall.

For people that are interested in Native linguistics, I would definitely recommend acquiring: Mithun's The Languages of Native North America

u/languagejones · 2 pointsr/linguistics

109 comments and nobody has mentioned "The Story of /r/", which directly answers your question? Nor Ladefoged's discussion of it in The Sounds of the World's Languages?

EDIT: Short story is that rhotics (1) act like they're the same thing in various languages (for instance, the same phoneme might be realized as a tap in one environment and a uvular fricative in another), and (2) form a sort of cline, where the far ends (voiceless apical trill, voiced uvular fricative) seem very different, but each intermediate rhotic is very similar to the next closest, either phonologically or articulatorily, or both.

u/whiskeyromeo · 4 pointsr/linguistics

Read this and this. Those two books are probably why I decided to major in linguistics. Both well written, and not at all dry

u/annodomini · 1 pointr/linguistics

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Tons of detailed information on how English actually works, much of which will surprise you if you've only been exposed to standard prescriptive "grammar."

u/Arminius99 · 4 pointsr/linguistics

Many of these stories are blown out of proportion. For example, 'wasta' is mosly used with the meaning 'clout' in colloquial Arabic.
The Hans Wehr dictionary contains a number of auto-antonyms/antagonyms that might seem confusing, but they usually pose no problems to native speakers because context acts as a natural filter. Fore more information see:

u/IwillMakeYouMad · 1 pointr/linguistics

I read in the book The Horse, the Wheel and Language that the author explains that sometimes nomadic groups in Africa would defeat other groups of people and then establish their language as the one "with prestige". Could it be possible that it happened there?

u/Asyx · 15 pointsr/linguistics

Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon CN
Amazon IT
Amazon DE
Amazon FR
Amazon ES
Amazon JP

Just in case OP isn't American (South American countries seem to be able to order on

It's quite ridiculous, by the way, that there is no amazon Australia but an amazon Austria that just redirects to the German amazon :/