92 books like Words in the Mind

By Jean Aitchison,

Here are 92 books that Words in the Mind fans have personally recommended if you like Words in the Mind. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

Norbert Schmitt Author Of Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Make Language Work for You

From my list on learning and using language well.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career in 1988 as an English language teacher in Japan. I originally went for a one-year adventure, but soon found myself fascinated by language, and how it is learned and used. This eventually led to a professorship at the University of Nottingham, where I have the good fortune to consult on language issues worldwide. I have researched language extensively, but all of my previous publications were meant for an academic/educational audience. I wanted to produce a book for general readership which outlines all that I have learned in 35 years of language research, and Language Power is the result. I hope you find it useful in your language-based life. 

Norbert's book list on learning and using language well

Norbert Schmitt Why did Norbert love this book?

When researching my book, I consulted many books on literacy, but this is the one I liked the best.

Many books describe ways to improve reading and writing ability (especially for children), but this one goes beyond that and explains why we need to do them. The answers lie in the way the brain functions, and how it adapted to handle written language over the ages; in essence, how the brain learned to read and write. If we understand that, then the paths towards improving literacy (both child and adult), and addressing problems like dyslexia, become much clearer. 

Maryanne Wolf masterfully weaves historical, psychological, and educational perspectives together to present a fascinating window into the world of reading and writing. Read the book, and the reason for the quirky title soon becomes clear.

By Maryanne Wolf,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Proust and the Squid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Everything about [this] book, which combines a healthy dose of lucid neuroscience with a dash of sensitive personal narrative, delights ... a beautifully balanced piece of popular-science writing' Boyd Tonkin, Independent
'For people interested in language, this is a must. You'll find yourself focusing on words in new ways. Read it slowly - it will take time to sink in.'William Leith, Sunday Telegraph
'An inspiring celebration of the science of reading.' P.D. Smith, Guardian

'We were never born to read', says Maryanne Wolf. 'No specific genes ever dictated reading's development. Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago.…


Book cover of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language

Norbert Schmitt Author Of Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Make Language Work for You

From my list on learning and using language well.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career in 1988 as an English language teacher in Japan. I originally went for a one-year adventure, but soon found myself fascinated by language, and how it is learned and used. This eventually led to a professorship at the University of Nottingham, where I have the good fortune to consult on language issues worldwide. I have researched language extensively, but all of my previous publications were meant for an academic/educational audience. I wanted to produce a book for general readership which outlines all that I have learned in 35 years of language research, and Language Power is the result. I hope you find it useful in your language-based life. 

Norbert's book list on learning and using language well

Norbert Schmitt Why did Norbert love this book?

This is the ideal coffee table book on language. It contains an astonishing amount of information on virtually every aspect of language, ranging from interesting tidbits that might be useful in a trivia game (How many languages are there in the world?) to more extended discussions of weightier issues (What is dyslexia?). 

It is the perfect book for dipping in and out of, because every page you might open up to contains something intriguing about the way language is described, used, learned, or lost. It is meant for a general audience, but when I read it, I found many new ideas that led me to advance my own academic research. 

The fact that it is now in its 3rd edition shows just how useful and popular this wide-ranging gem is.

By David Crystal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

This new, thoroughly revised edition of the acclaimed Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language incorporates the major developments in language study which have taken place since the mid 1990s. Two main new areas have been added: the rise of electronic communication in all its current forms from email to texting, and the crisis affecting the world's languages, of which half are thought to be so seriously endangered that they will die out this century. * All language statistics have been updated, and additional information provided about their linguistic affiliation * All topics involving technology have been revised to take account of recent…


Book cover of How Languages are Learned

Norbert Schmitt Author Of Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Make Language Work for You

From my list on learning and using language well.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career in 1988 as an English language teacher in Japan. I originally went for a one-year adventure, but soon found myself fascinated by language, and how it is learned and used. This eventually led to a professorship at the University of Nottingham, where I have the good fortune to consult on language issues worldwide. I have researched language extensively, but all of my previous publications were meant for an academic/educational audience. I wanted to produce a book for general readership which outlines all that I have learned in 35 years of language research, and Language Power is the result. I hope you find it useful in your language-based life. 

Norbert's book list on learning and using language well

Norbert Schmitt Why did Norbert love this book?

When I took my Master course in English Language Teaching in 1992, this was one of the suggested sources.

I loved it, and so did my fellow students, because it explained language learning in an extremely clear and straightforward way. Later, as a professor, I found that my own students were similarly enthusiastic. But do not get the impression that this is just a good ‘academic’ textbook. It was written for novice English teachers, many international, and so the language is non-technical and accessible.

Lightbown and Spada take the reader through the process of language acquisition step-by-step, with numerous examples and illustrations, and with a conversational writing style. This makes the book suitable for any interested reader who desires an introduction into how languages are learned, and how they should be taught. Now in its 5th blockbuster edition, with even more pictures and examples. 

By Patsy M. Lightbown, Nina Spada,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Languages are Learned as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now in its 4th edition, How Languages are Learned is highly valued for the way it relates language acquisition theory to classroom teaching and learning and draws practical implications from the research for the language classroom. How Languages are Learned is widely used as a reference book on teacher training courses, and for new and experienced practising teachers.


Book cover of Cambridge Grammar of English

Norbert Schmitt Author Of Language Power: 100 Things You Need to Make Language Work for You

From my list on learning and using language well.

Why am I passionate about this?

I began my career in 1988 as an English language teacher in Japan. I originally went for a one-year adventure, but soon found myself fascinated by language, and how it is learned and used. This eventually led to a professorship at the University of Nottingham, where I have the good fortune to consult on language issues worldwide. I have researched language extensively, but all of my previous publications were meant for an academic/educational audience. I wanted to produce a book for general readership which outlines all that I have learned in 35 years of language research, and Language Power is the result. I hope you find it useful in your language-based life. 

Norbert's book list on learning and using language well

Norbert Schmitt Why did Norbert love this book?

We all want to use language well. But language pundits sometimes promote grammar rules (e.g. no ‘split infinitives’) that contrast with what we hear in speech all the time.

The source of the discrepancy is traditional grammar books, which originated in the 18th Century, and were based on Latin models. But English has always had a different grammatical structure than Latin, and so some traditional ‘rules’ have never made sense. Instead of relying on such traditional prescriptive grammars, it is much better to refer to modern descriptive grammars, which describes how English is actually used nowadays.

These are based on thousands of examples of real written texts and spoken discourse, and so they can confidently report how English is really used in today’s world. The Cambridge Grammar of English is one of the best examples. 

By Ronald Carter, Michael McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A major reference grammar offering comprehensive coverage of spoken and written English based on real everyday usage. With its clear, two part structure, this is a user-friendly book from the world's leading English grammar publisher. The accompanying CD-ROM (Windows only) makes Cambridge Grammar of English even more accessible with: * The whole book in handy, searchable format. * Audio recordings of all the examples from the book. * Links to the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary online for instant definitions of new vocabulary.


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 Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self

Michael J. Spivey Author Of Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness

From my list on the mind as more than a brain.

Why am I passionate about this?

Over the past 25 years, I have spent half of my time as a professor of psychology at Cornell University and the second half as a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Merced. The interdisciplinary field of cognitive science invites a much wider range of methods, theories, and perspectives in studying the mind. My work employs dynamical systems theory, neural network simulations, eye-tracking, and other dense-sampling measures of cognitive processes to reveal how the brain, body, and environment cooperate to generate mental activity. In 2010, I was awarded the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement from the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society. I have authored two books, The Continuity of Mind, and Who You Are.

Michael's book list on the mind as more than a brain

Michael J. Spivey Why did Michael love this book?

One of the most important parts of the environment for human organisms is the linguistic information that we share back and forth with each other. The language(s) you share with the people around you cannot help but become a fundamental aspect of who you are. While the majority of the world is multilingual (i.e., able to talk about the same thing in different ways), many in North America struggle with developing fluency in a language other than English because English has become so overwhelmingly dominant. Julie Sedivy is in the curious (but not uncommon) situation of being “a linguistic orphan, a person without a mother tongue.” She learned only Czech for the first few years of her life but then was whisked away to Canada where she quickly learned English and rapidly forgot her native language. In Memory Speaks, Julie Sedivy draws the parallels between an individual losing a…

By Julie Sedivy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From an award-winning writer and linguist, a scientific and personal meditation on the phenomenon of language loss and the possibility of renewal.

As a child Julie Sedivy left Czechoslovakia for Canada, and English soon took over her life. By early adulthood she spoke Czech rarely and badly, and when her father died unexpectedly, she lost not only a beloved parent but also her firmest point of connection to her native language. As Sedivy realized, more is at stake here than the loss of language: there is also the loss of identity.

Language is an important part of adaptation to a…


Book cover of The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

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?

This book is why I decided to become a professional linguist! It’s a classic: it set the bar high for writing about language in a way that’s scientifically accurate yet gripping.

I was utterly mesmerized by a myriad of things Pinker talks about, like Nicaraguan Sign Language, Broca’s area in the brain, and the workings of words like “riff-raff” and “ding-dong” (and why we don’t say “raff-riff” or “dong-ding”). I also love the author’s fascination with, and admiration for, the beauty and complexity of human language and of the human mind. 

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Dazzling... Pinker's big idea is that language is an instinct...as innate to us as flying is to geese... Words can hardly do justice to the superlative range and liveliness of Pinker's investigations'
- Independent

'A marvellously readable book... illuminates every facet of human language: its biological origin, its uniqueness to humanity, it acquisition by children, its grammatical structure, the production and perception of speech, the pathology of language disorders and the unstoppable evolution of languages and dialects' - Nature


Book cover of I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World

Clare Williams Author Of An Economic Sociology of Law Reimagined: Beyond Embeddedness

From my list on how we use metaphor and how metaphor uses us.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by (and in love with) language for as long as I can remember; how and why it works, and how slight alterations in phrasing and framing can produce vastly different results in practice. I love looking out for metaphors and phrases that function as tools, directing how we understand and engage with the world. While my research applies these insights to both law and economics, the key takeaways are widely applicable and relevant to all areas of life. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have.

Clare's book list on how we use metaphor and how metaphor uses us

Clare Williams Why did Clare love this book?

Have you ever noticed that we use active metaphors for stock market gains (“the markets have climbed”) but passive metaphors for losses (“markets have tumbled”)? Have you wondered if this can legitimize the expectation that stock market gains are earned, while losses are then simply the result of forces beyond traders’ control?

Both law and economics claim to be value-neutral and prefer clear language, but both are “drenched” in metaphor and Geary unpicks some of the key metaphors here in forensic detail. Many of these metaphors are now so taken for granted that we no longer notice them. But they have a powerful role in shaping how we understand and respond to economic and legal concepts.

By James Geary,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Is an Other as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

According to "New York Times" bestselling author James Geary, Elvis Presley was more than just a rock star - he was also a master at metaphor. But as Geary posits in this lively and informative book on one of our most basic forms of language, metaphor does more than provide a good chorus for us to dance to. It also wholly forms how people look at and experience the world and drives invention and creativity. Although most people would assume that metaphor's only place of influence is in literature and song, as Geary argues, metaphors are found in all aspects…


Book cover of A History of Psycholinguistics: The Pre-Chomskyan Era

Eve V. Clark Author Of First Language Acquisition

From my list on nourish curiosity about language.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up with two languages, I always wondered how one ‘retrieves’ the right words. Later, I worked on how children acquire a language. I looked at when they understood words like IN and ON; BIG and LOW; FATHER, SISTER, or COUSIN; HERE, THERE; BEFORE and AFTER. I tracked when children could produce such words, too. And I found that designing experiments was fun and rewarding. I also worked on when and how children coin words to fill gaps: TO OAR = row; a CUT-GRASS = lawn-mower; a CLIMBER = ladder. I found that learning a first language is a long journey, with many steps along the way.

Eve's book list on nourish curiosity about language

Eve V. Clark Why did Eve love this book?

Levelt offers a wonderfully informative history of the sources of many current ideas in psycholinguistics. Levelt also shares major questions about language processing (how we understand and produce language).

He takes up ideas raised long ago, ideas that couldn’t be studied at the time without a phonetic alphabet. For example, without audio and video-recording methods or the sophisticated equipment for studying how language is stored in the brain, all available today. 

I find it salutary to recognize how much of what we think is new in today’s research was actually recognized and discussed at least a century ago or more.

By Willem Levelt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How do we manage to speak and understand language? How do children acquire these skills and how does the brain support them? These psycholinguistic issues have been studied for more than two centuries. Though many Psycholinguists tend to consider their history as beginning with the Chomskyan "cognitive revolution" of the late 1950s/1960s, the history of empirical psycholinguistics actually goes back to the end of the 18th century. This is the first book to comprehensively treat this "pre-Chomskyan" history. It tells the fascinating history of the doctors, pedagogues, linguists and psychologists who created this discipline, looking at how they made their…


Book cover of Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can't, and What Can Be Done About It

J. Richard Gentry Author Of Brain Words: How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching

From my list on the movement to change teaching reading in English.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a reading educator my mission in life is to give the gift of literacy. Inspiration came from my mother, my first-grade teacher who taught me to read. At 90-plus years old and declining, I dedicated one of my 18 books on teaching literacy to her. She sent me the last letter she would ever write and said, “Oh, oh, oh!”—a quote from Dick and Jane, the book she used to teach reading to three generations of first graders—“I always wanted to write a book but never did. I hope a word of mine is on a page or two of yours.” Her inspiration is on every page.

J.'s book list on the movement to change teaching reading in English

J. Richard Gentry Why did J. love this book?

Cognitive neuroscientist Mark Seidenberg writes powerfully about how the way we teach reading is not working and why it cannot continue.

His decades of research reaffirms my own four decades of calling for change in how we teach reading. This powerful and impactful book was a major jumpstart for the science of reading movement—a must read for every teacher and parent of a beginning reader.

By Mark Seidenberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

According to a leading cognitive scientist, we've been teaching reading wrong. The latest science reveals how we can do it right.

In 2011, when an international survey reported that students in Shanghai dramatically outperformed American students in reading, math, and science, President Obama declared it a "Sputnik moment": a wake-up call about the dismal state of American education. Little has changed, however, since then: over half of our children still read at a basic level and few become highly proficient. Many American children and adults are not functionally literate, with serious consequences. Poor readers are more likely to drop out…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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