I had dinner this evening with my Extreme Blue team, my second line manager, and one of my other co-workers (notice how carefully I don’t name names here — Facebook is a different story!), and the topic of languages came up — not, in this case, computer languages, but rather human languages.
I’d recently read two books and listened to a course by John McWhorter about the evolution of language, and I wanted to pass along the pointers here.
The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language covers language in general, with an emphasis on how languages mutate and how grammar works. I really enjoyed this book, though it’s a little repetitive at times.
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English covers the history of English — this was a very fast read, but enjoyable. There’s more to the history than English’s habit of assimilating words from other languages — in particular, it’s interesting to see McWhorter’s explanation of why English has so little in the way of grammatical mechanisms (no gender, nearly no endings, and so forth).
If you’d rather listen (or watch) than read, the same material is covered in a set of lectures from The Teaching Company called The Story of Language (which is “on sale” as I type this — and you should never buy a Teaching Company course which isn’t “on sale”). I got them as audio downloads and played them in the car; there were a few moments where watching on DVD would have been useful, but very few — and I find it much easier to make time to listen to something than I do to watch it.