I need an introductory book that covers the cutting-edge research of the linguistics and most of its big branches. It must be written in a textbook format. The answerer must be well-versed in linguistics (well-versed = engages with the contemporary literature on linguistics on academic level/contributes to it or strives to contribute to it in future), and s/he also must have read more than one introductory book to linguistics (so that the end-review is not skewed). There are a number of well-reviewed introductory linguistics books on Amazon, but I wanted a more systematic answer to my question, and hence the reason I'm posting it here.

  • 2
    There isn't any. There are books that will say they do this, but they don't. That's because you absolutely cannot start from the top in linguistics -- you must learn enough basic linguistics to understand the issues, first. If you look only at theories (which is what "cutting-edge research" refers to), you get confused. Linguistics is data-driven, and one needs to experience the data, not the theories. After teaching linguistics to American college students for ten years or so, I gave up on textbooks and just relied on data analysis problems for the next 30; it worked fine.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 17:05
  • @jlawler Is that a general consensus amongst professional linguists? What do you mean by experiencing the data?
    – duskn
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 17:08
  • If you're interested in the problems, the first half-term is here and the second half-term is here (about 100 pages each, scanned from the coursepacks). The syllabus explains how they're used.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 17:09
  • You'll hafta ask other professional linguists; since they continue to write textbooks, I would suppose it isn't. But it's been my experience anyway.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 17:10
  • If you want a recommendation anyway, I'd suggest Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and his Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Both are excellent and contain vast amounts of interesting reading -- with very useful glossaries and massive bibliographies; they are not textbooks, however. They are for information, not indoctrination or training.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 17:20

2 Answers 2


You are asking for impossible things. A textbook, by definition, covers material that is fairly well-established in the field,[*] and note that the degree of difficulty of the material is not a good indicator of how well-established the conclusions are. If you want to know about cutting-edge research, you need to be reading journals and attending conferences.

That said, this is what I tend to recommend to my syntax-semantics students (in no particular order).


  1. Radford, Andrew. 2009. Minimalist syntax: exploring the structure of English. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Adger, David. 2003. Core syntax. Blackwell.
  3. Carnie, Andrew. 2012. Syntax: a generative introduction. Blackwell.
  4. Haegeman, Liliane. 1994. Introduction to Government and Binding theory. Blackwell (a bit dated, but useful to understand the background of certain current ideas).
  5. Larson, Richard, and Kimiko Ryokai. 2009. Grammar as science. MIT Press (possibly the most basic textbook in this list)
  6. Lasnik, Howard, and Juan Uriagereka. 1988. A course in GB syntax. MIT Press (same comments as Haegeman 94 apply).
  7. Lasnik, Howard, and Juan Uriagereka. 2005. A course in Minimalist syntax. Blackwell (updated version of Lasnik & Uriagereka 88).
  8. Uriagereka, Juan. 1998. Rhyme and reason. MIT Press (written as a Socratic dialogue, which some people dislike, but it highlights why certain issues are important, rather than just explaining how to go about solving them).
  9. Pollard, Carl, and Ivan Sag. 1994. Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. University of Chicago Press (about same status as Haegeman 94).
  10. Sag, Ivan, Thomas Wasow, and Emily Bender. 2003. Syntactic Theory: a formal introduction. CSLI.
  11. Bresnan, Joan. 2001. Lexical-functional grammar. Blackwell.


  1. Heim, Irene, and Angelika Kratzer. 1998. Semantics in Generative Grammar. Blackwell.
  2. Iatridou, Sabine, and Kai von Fintel. 2010. Intensional semantics. Available from KvF's website.
  3. Chierchia, Gennaro, and Louise McNally. 2000. Meaning and grammar: an introduction to semantics. MIT Press.
  4. Larson, Richard, and Gabriel Segal. 1995. Knowledge of meaning: an introduction to semantic theory. MIT Press.

[*] or at least in the relevant subfield. For example, you tend to see textbooks with titles like "Introduction to [name of theoretical framework]". What you find in those are things that are well-established within the framework in question, even though there might be competing frameworks that propose pretty different ways of doing things.


No, you may think you do, but you don't need that. The predominant, traditional method of teaching linguistics is by the case method, akin (I imagine) to the method of teaching law, by the same name. You get a small set of language forms, you think about it, then give your best shot at analyzing it, write it up, and get evaluative comments from an instructor. You may perhaps get the instructor's own model analysis, or other students' attempts. You may agree or not with the instructor's comments, you may or may not see any merit in others' ideas about the data, you may agree that general theoretical ideas you have read about are some help in your problem analysis, or perhaps not, but if you disagree with your instructor about this, you will probably be expected to defend your views.

Then you go on to another problem.

It's a bit chaotic, and some students don't handle this well. They'd like to have more clarity and organization, and not to be so much on their own. But those students don't grow up to be linguists.

  • If there is no clear teaching method in linguistics, and if it's all so haphazard, then I guess becoming a linguist is not really worth it :)
    – duskn
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 0:27
  • I really hope that the actual discipline hardly corresponds to your description, otherwise it's safe to say that it's in a terrible mess.
    – duskn
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 0:36
  • 1
    It's in a terrible mess. It has been for a century in the US, anyway.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 1:56

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.