My brother pointed me to a letter in last Sunday’s NY Times Book Review, and since it warmed my heart, I’m sharing it here:

What grabbed my attention in John McWhorter’s review of “Language: The Cultural Tool,” by Daniel L. Everett (April 8), wasn’t the continuing argument about genetics versus culture as the main shaper of language. It was the description of “Language” as “that rare thing: a warm linguistics book.”
Really? Who doesn’t love reading about language? McWhorter himself has written many entertaining volumes about creoles, pidgins and language evolution. Another linguist and popular writer is David Crystal. Then there is Steven Pinker, who writes about mind-language connections.
The list goes on. Right- versus left-branching syntax and arguments about recursion might not sound sexy, but linguistics is full of page-turning stuff. Really.
The writer, a linguist and professor at Marymount Manhattan College, is a co-editor of “Language in the Real World: An Introduction to Linguistics.”

As I’ve said a number of times here at LH, we live in a golden age of well-written books by linguists aimed at the general public, and I’m glad to see it publicized.


  1. What’s the argument about recursion?
    I’m always the last to know….

  2. Whether it is the one thing distinguishing human minds from those of the other apes, per Chomsky and Fitch.

  3. marie-lucie says

    Unfortunately, the word has gone through several definitions, becoming less and less specific, as was discussed here earlier (sorry, I can’t find it).

  4. Here. (The search box in the right margin is extremely helpful; that’s how I find out what I’ve written about in the past, if I remember to check.)

  5. I think what McWhorter was saying here, rather gently, is that Everett’s new book errs on the warm and fuzzy side. It’s full of anecdote and digression, lengthy lite explanations of basic concepts, an aw-shucks tone, and not nearly enough hard data to support his position or overturn the opposition. The data is out there, but he seems to have judged that the technicalities involved would turn off his lay readers.

  6. jamessal says

    “Language in the Real World: An Introduction to Linguistics.”
    Anyone else have this book? I do, on Kindle, but haven’t read a page. Been busy. Also, as some may have noticed, I have a habit of buying books I can’t afford. I guess after all those other habits I kicked I’m having trouble taking this on seriously.

  7. I have a habit of buying books I can’t afford
    Anyone who only bought the books they could afford would be wasting their life. Have you ever said “thank goodness I didn’t buy that book, my life is so much better without it”? Thought not.

  8. marie-lucie says

    I have a habit of buying books I can’t afford
    Who here doesn’t? It all depends on one’s priorities. I think there is a quotation from Erasmus, something like “When I have money, I buy books. If there is money leftover, I buy food and clothes”.

  9. Was that Erasmus? I thought it was Churchill, or maybe Shaw or Twain. Or Booker T. Washington.
    (m-l always gets her facts right. The preceding was merely a completely frivolous bit of humor.)

  10. marie-lucie says

    m-l does not always gets her facts right. Does Google? the consensus there is that the quote is from Erasmus.

  11. If you want a great book on jokes, linguistics and cognitive science try Jokes and the Linguistic Mind, by Debra Aarons. It is full of stuff on language and jokes.

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