100 books like Course in General Linguistics

By Ferdinand la Saussure,

Here are 100 books that Course in General Linguistics fans have personally recommended if you like Course in General Linguistics. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Exhalation

Robin Reames Author Of The Ancient Art of Thinking For Yourself: The Power of Rhetoric in Polarized Times

From my list on transforming how you think about language.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of language to propel everything we think—from our values and beliefs, to political views, to what we take for absolute truth. Once I learned there’s a whole field devoted to studying language called “rhetoric”—the field in which I’m now an expert—there was no turning back. Rhetoric has been around for more than 2,000 years, and since its inception, it has taught people to step back from language and appraise it with a more critical eye to identify how it works, why it’s persuasive, and what makes people prone to believe it. By studying rhetoric, we become less easily swayed and more comfortable with disagreement. 

Robin's book list on transforming how you think about language

Robin Reames Why did Robin love this book?

I love Ted Chiang’s short stories. Chiang’s background is in computer science, and he’s drawn to questions concerning the relationship between language, technology, cognition, and the physical universe. 

His stories are fascinating thought experiments: They depict how a change in the medium or format of language transforms meaning and opens new possibilities for what language can be and do, what humans can think and know, and what it means to be a thinking, speaking human against the backdrop of a vast, infinitely complex universe. His stories are often backed by years of detailed research.

When I read Chiang, I find myself entangled in a strong emotional bond with his characters even as I ruminate on larger questions about what it means to be a language-using human. 

By Ted Chiang,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Exhalation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Lean, relentless, and incandescent.' Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys

This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In 'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate,' a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary 'Exhalation,' an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in 'The Lifecycle of Software Objects,' a woman cares for…


Book cover of Metaphors We Live By

Marco te Brömmelstroet Author Of Movement: how to take back our streets and transform our lives

From my list on how your language shapes the way you think (and act).

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor in Urban Mobility Futures and, as such, am fascinated by how we think about our mobility present and past and how this limits us in imagining different futures. The problems in our mobility system are so urgent and overwhelming that I like to actively search for alternative ways of seeing and acting and teach others to do the same. Personally, I love to experience the incredible freedom of mind that I find in doing this. Also, see the Shepherd list of recommendations by my co-author, Thalia Verkade.

Marco's book list on how your language shapes the way you think (and act)

Marco te Brömmelstroet Why did Marco love this book?

Did you ever say, "Time is Money?" And do you believe it is true?

This book offers a deep dive into the philosophy of how our language is full of useful and less useful metaphors. Human communication is built on them since it makes it easier to talk about complex topics, such as life, love, and time. But they do not create a mirror of reality, but a lens.

These metaphors make us act in accordance with them. If time is money, we can exchange one for the other. But is it really? Think about it. And that is also the overall tip from this book: think about it!

By George Lakoff, Mark Johnson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Metaphors We Live By as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

People use metaphors every time they speak. Some of those metaphors are literary - devices for making thoughts more vivid or entertaining. But most are much more basic than that - they're "metaphors we live by", metaphors we use without even realizing we're using them. In this book, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson suggest that these basic metaphors not only affect the way we communicate ideas, but actually structure our perceptions and understandings from the beginning. Bringing together the perspectives of linguistics and philosophy, Lakoff and Johnson offer an intriguing and surprising guide to some of the most common metaphors…


Book cover of Orality and Literacy

Robin Reames Author Of The Ancient Art of Thinking For Yourself: The Power of Rhetoric in Polarized Times

From my list on transforming how you think about language.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of language to propel everything we think—from our values and beliefs, to political views, to what we take for absolute truth. Once I learned there’s a whole field devoted to studying language called “rhetoric”—the field in which I’m now an expert—there was no turning back. Rhetoric has been around for more than 2,000 years, and since its inception, it has taught people to step back from language and appraise it with a more critical eye to identify how it works, why it’s persuasive, and what makes people prone to believe it. By studying rhetoric, we become less easily swayed and more comfortable with disagreement. 

Robin's book list on transforming how you think about language

Robin Reames Why did Robin love this book?

This book blew my mind when I first read it twenty years ago, and it still seems fresh when I revisit it now. 

Our common assumption about language is that it represents the world, plain and simple. However, Ong’s book colorfully captures how differently language was experienced in the oral world before the rise of literacy.

Hearers empathized with speakers and participated in the scenes their words evoked. There was an immersive and tangible sense of commonality that spread through the shared experience of sound, which comes from within one person’s body and enters another person’s body. Language knitted the culture together more than it indexed the world.

Ong’s book made it much harder for me to blithely assume that referentiality is a natural or inherent property of language. 

By Walter J. Ong,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Orality and Literacy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Walter J. Ong's classic work provides a fascinating insight into the social effects of oral, written, printed and electronic technologies, and their impact on philosophical, theological, scientific and literary thought.

This thirtieth anniversary edition - coinciding with Ong's centenary year - reproduces his best-known and most influential book in full and brings it up to date with two new exploratory essays by cultural writer and critic John Hartley.

Hartley provides:

A scene-setting chapter that situates Ong's work within the historical and disciplinary context of post-war Americanism and the rise of communication and media studies;

A closing chapter that follows up…


Book cover of On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse

Robin Reames Author Of The Ancient Art of Thinking For Yourself: The Power of Rhetoric in Polarized Times

From my list on transforming how you think about language.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of language to propel everything we think—from our values and beliefs, to political views, to what we take for absolute truth. Once I learned there’s a whole field devoted to studying language called “rhetoric”—the field in which I’m now an expert—there was no turning back. Rhetoric has been around for more than 2,000 years, and since its inception, it has taught people to step back from language and appraise it with a more critical eye to identify how it works, why it’s persuasive, and what makes people prone to believe it. By studying rhetoric, we become less easily swayed and more comfortable with disagreement. 

Robin's book list on transforming how you think about language

Robin Reames Why did Robin love this book?

I love tracing things back to their roots. Rhetoric was the first discipline devoted to the study of language, and this was the first book written on that subject. Although it’s over 2,000 years old, many of Aristotle’s insights floor me with their timely relevance. 

Aristotle was the first to explain how language creates emotional effects and how negative emotions especially prompt us to act. Because it feels as though emotions well up inside our bodies, we feel that what stirs them must be real. Negative emotions are particularly persuasive in this regard because, Aristotle observed, we enjoy feeling them.

It’s fascinating to me that Aristotle discovered what brain science has discovered only recently: We’re negativity junkies, and the way we talk can change the way we feel.

By Aristotle, George A. Kennedy (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Rhetoric as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on careful study of the Greek text and informed by the best modern scholarship, the second edition of this highly acclaimed translation offers the most faithful English version ever published of On Rhetoric. Updated in light of recent scholarship, the new edition features a revised introduction--with two new sections--and revised appendices that provide new and additional supplementary texts (relevant ancient works).


Book cover of Language Unlimited: The Science Behind Our Most Creative Power

Asya Pereltsvaig Author Of Languages of the World: An Introduction

From my list on how human language works.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by languages since my teenage years, when, in addition to my native Russian, I learned English, French, Spanish, Latin, Hebrew, and Esperanto to varying degrees of fluency. But it was in college that I decided to pursue linguistics as a profession, in part influenced by one of the books on my list! After 20 years of doing scientific research and teaching linguistics at different universities, I switched gears and now focus on bringing linguistic science to the general audience of lifelong learners. Even if you don’t change your career, like I did, I hope you enjoy reading the books on my list as much as I have!  

Asya's book list on how human language works

Asya Pereltsvaig Why did Asya love this book?

A whirlwind tour of what state-of-the-art linguistic science has to offer!

Even after 25 years of working in the field, I learned many new things from this book, ranging from how children acquire sign languages of the deaf to experiments trying to teach apes human language. I particularly liked the many clearly-presented examples from English and other languages.

But what was especially fun for me was a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how Adger designed an alien language for a TV show. It made me wonder how I would have done it differently and how our personal experiences influence us as scientists.

By David Adger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Language Unlimited as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Language Unlimited explores the many mysteries about our capacity for language and reveals the source of its endless creativity.

All humans, but no other species, have the capacity to create and understand language. It provides structure to our thoughts, allowing us to plan, communicate, and create new ideas, without limit. Yet we have only finite experiences, and our languages have finite stores of words. Where does our linguistic creativity come from? How does the endless scope of language emerge from our limited selves?

Drawing on research from neuroscience, psychology, and linguistics, David Adger takes the reader on a journey to…


Book cover of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

Chad LeJeune Author Of "Pure O" OCD: Letting Go of Obsessive Thoughts with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

From my list on thoughts, and our relationship with them.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a clinical psychologist, I listen to thoughts all the time. I’m also having my own, constantly. We rely on our thoughts to help us navigate the world. However, our thoughts can also be a source of suffering. At times, they're not such reliable guides or helpers. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a way of thinking about thinking. ACT captured my imagination early in my clinical career. I trained with ACT’s originator, Steven Hayes, in the early 1990’s. I’ve come to believe that being more aware of our own thoughts, and our relationship to them is key to creating positive change and living a life grounded in our values.

Chad's book list on thoughts, and our relationship with them

Chad LeJeune Why did Chad love this book?

In this witty and provocative book, psycholinguistics researcher Steven Pinker explores the role of language in shaping our experience of reality. 

Human-style thinking would not be possible without our capacity for language. Thoughts are basically internal language. Among the basic experiences shaped by linguistics is our experience of time. 

We use language to construct a spatial metaphor for time, thinking in terms of “moving” “forward” or “backward” in time. Pinker takes us for a walk around the metaphorical space of consciousness, examining how language shapes our experience of the world.   

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Stuff of Thought as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Pulitzer Prize finalist author of The Blank Slate presents an accessible study of the relationship between language and human nature, explaining how everything from swearing and innuendo to prepositions and baby names reveal facts about key human concepts, emotions, and relationships.


Book cover of The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention

John Langdon Author Of The Science of Human Evolution: Getting it Right

From my list on tell us who we are.

Why am I passionate about this?

My sister once remarked that listening to our mother’s stories about living during World War II made it sound like we missed something really exciting. That is what history has always been for me–something I missed out on, for better or worse. What would it really have been like? Could I have survived? Family genealogies bring history to me on a personal level; archaeology and paleontology extend that wonder much deeper into the past. During the time I taught anatomy and human evolution at the University of Indianapolis, I tried to be as interdisciplinary as possible, both in study and teaching. I continue this in my retirement. 

John's book list on tell us who we are

John Langdon Why did John love this book?

I have tried to appreciate linguistics before but never really succeeded until I stumbled across this book. For one thing, it is a difficult field if you haven’t learned a second language. (I tried but not successfully.) For another, when I have delved into language theory, it has been much easier to think about, oh, what I am going to have for dinner tonight, or the fact that my library book is due tomorrow, or almost anything else. Guy Deutscher’s narrative is refreshingly different.

Of the traits that make humans different from all animals on this planet, language is certainly near the top of the list. As an evolutionist, language is important to me for two reasons. The first is that its origin is both important and mysterious. The French Academy of Sciences famously banned discussion of the first question because it was useless speculation and wasted time. That problem…

By Guy Deutscher,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Unfolding of Language as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blending the spirit of Eats, Shoots & Leaves with the science of The Language Instinct, an original inquiry into the development of that most essential-and mysterious-of human creations: Language

Language is mankind's greatest invention-except, of course, that it was never invented." So begins linguist Guy Deutscher's enthralling investigation into the genesis and evolution of language. If we started off with rudimentary utterances on the level of "man throw spear," how did we end up with sophisticated grammars, enormous vocabularies, and intricately nuanced degrees of meaning?

Drawing on recent groundbreaking discoveries in modern linguistics, Deutscher exposes the elusive forces of creation…


Book cover of Saussure For Beginners

Tony Sandy Author Of Logic List English: Rhyming Word etc. - Vol 1 A

From my list on honest communication and language usage.

Why am I passionate about this?

What qualifies me to compile this list of books, probably goes back to my childhood and the confusion I felt about human society and its conflict in word usage, compared to actual meaning. This fascination with psychology and linguistics, culminated in me reading perhaps hundreds of books, some of which are included here. My mother described me as a quiet baby and a child who would only say something, if they thought it was important, possible indicators of autism and the little professor syndrome of silent observation and study.

Tony's book list on honest communication and language usage

Tony Sandy Why did Tony love this book?

In Saussure for Beginners, by Terrence Gordon and Abbe Lubell, we discover another linguist like Wittgenstein. While the latter talked about it being a tool for communication (social, there is no private language he famously said), the former just said that they were more simply signs, indicators of something in the real world, or subjective truth (look here). This for me beautifully simplified what language is, rather than the over-intellectualising of the subject by most academics like Chomsky and even Wittgenstein himself, whose later work acknowledged this. Saussure is famous for never writing anything down so the only knowledge we have of his work comes from former students of his, who did take notes of what he said.

By W. Terrence Gordon, Abbe Lubell (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Saussure For Beginners as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A concise, accessible introduction to the great linguist who shaped the study of language for the 20th century, Saussure for Beginners puts the challenging ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) into clear and illuminating terms, focusing on the unifying principles of his teachings and showing how his thoughts on linguistics migrated to anthropology.

Ferdinand de Saussure’s work is so powerful that it not only redefined modern linguistics, it also opened our minds to new ways of approaching anthropology, literary criticism, and psychoanalysis. Saussure felt that 19th century linguistics avoided hard questions about what language is and how it works. By…


Book cover of Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe

Theodor Pelekanidis Author Of How to Write About the Holocaust: The Postmodern Theory of History in Praxis

From my list on Books to make you reconsider what you know about history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian and author, passionate about how the past influences current ideas and perceptions. While reading for my Ph.D. in Historical Theory, I started to realise that it is not the past that influences us, but we that actually create it. The books in the list came up at different points in my life and research and made me think and rethink the concept of historical knowledge, how we acquire it, how we narrate it, and what we retain from it.

Theodor's book list on Books to make you reconsider what you know about history

Theodor Pelekanidis Why did Theodor love this book?

It’s a tough nut to crack, but totally worth it when you finally read it.

Although I write historical texts myself, I hadn’t considered how these texts are structured and mediated by historians. H. White showed me and many others that writing a historical text does not differ in form from writing a literary one.

Through a thoroughly structured argument, the book is a trip in the history of historiography and a careful analysis of the most important people who formed the way we look at our past today. Definitely one of the most influential theoretical texts of the last century.

By Hayden V. White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Metahistory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In White's view, beyond the surface level of the historical text, there is a deep structural, or latent, content that is generally poetic and specifically linguistic in nature. This deeper content - the metahistorical element - indicates what an "appropriate" historical explanation should be.


Book cover of Words in Time: A Social History of English Vocabulary

David Crystal Author Of The Story of English in 100 Words

From my list on words and their history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a bilingual environment (Welsh and English) and have been fascinated by languages ever since, and the way they reflect thought, culture, and history. An English degree course at University College London gave me an academic grounding in language and literature, and I've been exploring and writing on those subjects ever since, eventually as a professor of linguistics, and these days as an independent scholar. My website provides a complete list of my publications, along with links to other materials. And the most fascinating thing about language? Its diversity and change. Whatever a language was like yesterday, it's different today, and will be different again tomorrow.

David's book list on words and their history

David Crystal Why did David love this book?

The important word in the title is "social." The author brings together words that belong to a particular theme, such as journalism, economics, and politics. An example? A 'historical menu' from Anglo-Saxon times (bread, butter, cucumber) through Shakespearean times (tomato, potato, banana) to the present-day (pizza, tacos, hamburger). And not forgetting drinks, from beer to Coca-Cola. It's a fascinating exercise in the linguistic archaeology of social transformation.

By Geoffrey Hughes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Words in Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The word "blurb" derives from a "pulchritudinous young lady" of that fictional name who appeared on a book-cover at the turn of the century. Quarrying the "Oxford English Dictionary" for its evidence, this book traces the extraordinary way in which English words have changed their meanings over the past millennium. These shifts both reflect Britain's rich history and reveal the social determinants of the language. In English vocabulary is stored the "archaeological" evidence of such great social transformations as the Norman Conquest, the growth of capitalism, the coming of the Reformation and the evolution of feudal hierarchy into democracy. The…


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