You Talkin’ To Me: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leith

If you have ever doubted that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, read this. If rhetoric is all Greek to you, read this. If you want a book that is educated and entertaining, interesting and informative, academic and accessible, read this!

Sam Leith proves that rhetoric is not the preserve of the ancient Greeks, it is ‘language at play; language plus. It is what persuades and cajoles, inspires and bamboozles, thrills and misdirects. It causes criminals to be convicted and then frees those criminals on appeal. It causes governments to rise and fall, best men to be for ever shunned by their friends’ brides and perfectly sensible adults to march with steady purpose towards machine guns’. We use rhetoric every day and in our age of communication it may be more important than ever to understand and examine the rhetorical devices used on us.

This book is fascinating.

Flag Counter

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg

This is a lovely book on the history of English. Although not a linguist, Melvyn Bragg is a learned novelist and this is an engaging, well-researched read.

Flag Counter

The Stories of English by David Crystal

This is an authoritative and readable history of English by Professor David Crystal who is probably the most widely-recognised expert in linguistics and has written dozens of books on many aspects of the language.

This is a good introduction to the evolution of English through the ages.

Flag Counter

The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth

This book started life as a blog and this shows as the chapters are short and sweet. It’s a great book to dip into, with lots of fascinating, often funny, stories about English words. An interesting book to start a journey into etymology.

Flag Counter

Word Crime

Forensic linguistics was responsible for the posthumous pardon granted to Timothy Evans who was wrongly hanged in 1950 for murders committed by John Christie at 10 Rillington Place. It cast new light on Derek Bentley’s ‘confession’ to shooting Police Constable Sidney Miles in 1952, resulting in another posthumous pardon in 1998.

John Olsson founded the Forensic Linguistics Institute in the UK in 1994 and was the world’s first full-time forensic linguist. In this book he explains how his work has helped clear the innocent and convict the perpetrators in cases of murder, suicide, extortion, trafficking and plagiarism, in the UK and the USA.

This is a fascinating book. I recommend it to anyone interested in language. It is written for the general reader, Olsson takes great pains to present the technical material and terminology in a very accessible manner. It would be particularly useful as a very readable introduction to applied linguistics courses such as the Open University’s E303 course ‘English Grammar in Context’, as Olsson describes using Corpus Linguistics, Systemic Functional Linguistics, Semantics, Pragmatics, Phonetics and Sociolinguistics in cases involving authorship attribution, voice identification and evidence of influence.

A very interesting look at a relatively new, but important, branch of applied linguistics.

Flag Counter

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? The Amazing Adventure of Translation

” Translation is another name for the human condition”.

If you’re interested in language, this is a must read! David Bellos writes about translation as an art form and a necessity. What does it mean to know a language? How do we communicate? His writing is knowledgeable, interesting and accessible.

Flag Counter

Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf

We learned to sign the alphabet in cub scouts, labouriously spelling out messages to each other on our palms, ‘d-o-w-e-g-e-t-a-b-a-d-g-e-f-o-r-t-h-i-s’ and trying to decipher the replies ‘c-a-n-y-o-u-r-e-p-e-a-t-t-h-a-t’. It appeared to be a rather inadequate way of communicating.

In this book the neurologist Oliver Sacks (Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat) provides a fascinating introduction to sign language. He writes about the challenges that face the profoundly deaf and charts the history of American Sign Language (ASL) and its struggles for recognition in a hearing world. His enthusiasm for Sign is infectious, it does not translate aural language, it is much more than that, it is language in ‘four dimensions’.

Flag Counter

Shakespeare: Bill Bryson

I believe the world is divided into two groups of people: those that love Bill Bryson and those who haven’t read his books yet. He has an eye for detail and a taste for the absurd which makes his writing both learned and entertaining. This is a brilliant introduction to Shakespeare, what is known of his life and work and how he has influenced our language.

Flag Counter

Mother Tongue: Bill Bryson

This is a lovely book about the English language. Like all of Bryson’s books it is well-researched, interesting and very funny. It is this book that first interested me in linguistics and it is this book, more than any other, I have returned to for inspiration.

Flag Counter