In particular, I'm looking for English texts which try to give some sense of the vast diversity of human languages through examples of unusual linguistic features exhibited in only one or in a small number of languages. A kind of compendium of linguistic exotica, if you will. A sort of sensationalized popular introduction to linguistics, with the aim of getting a young person interested in the field.

This genre seems to exist in most fields. For instance, if you wanted to get someone interested in astronomy you wouldn't give them a physics textbook to begin with, instead you'd get them started with a book on black holes and quasars and relativity and other juicy exotic junk like that.

Is there something similar in the field of linguistics? It would be fair to say that I'm looking for a gateway drug to the field.

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    The International Olympiad in Linguistics? :) May 27, 2021 at 10:49
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    John McWhorter and Gretchen McCullough are two American linguists who write popular books, and David Crystal is an English one. Anything by any of them is suitable for any literate kid who's curious about language. I can especially recommend Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopedias (of Language, and of the English Language, both excellent, with very little overlap and terrific glossaries, references, and indices).
    – jlawler
    May 27, 2021 at 14:44
  • Have you tried reddit.com/r/linguistics/wiki/index?
    – user5306
    May 30, 2021 at 0:02

1 Answer 1


See our reading list for the latest book recommendations.

To answer your question, a high school student purportedly emailed Noam Chomsky the same question around May 2018. Putatively Chomsky recommended Charles Yang's The Infinite Gift and Ian Roberts's The Wonders of Language.

Personally I recommend Languages A Very Short Introduction, and Linguistics A Very Short Introduction.

The reading list on r/linguistics hasn't been updated since 2006, but I've read these recommendations and vouchsafe them.

General Linguistics

  • Adrian Akmajian, Richard A. Demers, Ann K. Farmer, and Robert M. Harnish. Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication. (2001).
  • Mark Aronoff, Janie Rees-Miller. The Handbook of Linguistics. (2003).
  • Kate Burridge, Tonya Stebbins. For the Love of Language: An Introduction to Linguistics. (2015).
  • David Crystal. How language works. (2006).
  • Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, Nina M. Hyams. An Introduction to Language. (2011).
  • Bruce Hayes - Introductory Linguistics. (2010).
  • Ray Jackendoff. Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution. (2003).
  • Andrew Radford, Martin Atkinson, David Britain, Harald Clahsen, Andrew Spencer. Linguistics: An Introduction. (2009).
  • George Yule. The Study of Language. (2010).
  • Ohio State University Press. Language Files 11: Materials for an Introduction to Language and Linguistics. (2011).

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