Sunday, January 4, 2009

50-book Challenge

Happy New Year! I've decided to take the 50-book challenge this year. I'll update this post as I read.

1. John McWhorter, Understanding Linguistics, 204 pages

Very informative and entertaining book and series of audio lectures. McWhorter has a gift for explaining things in a humorous, memorable way. Some parts even had me laughing out loud.
2. Peter Roach, A Little Encyclopaedia of Phonetics, 93 pages

Like the title says. Clear explanations and examples of key phonetic concepts.
3. 『言語学』(第2版)風間喜代三、他. 274 pages

This was one of the texts I used to study for the entrance exam. It is well-written and gives an accessible explanation of many of the subfields of linguistics. I thought the chapter on semantics was particularly good. An curious thing about this book is that it discusses phonetics not at the beginning but at the end of the book. Most linguistics textbooks tend to begin with phonetics.
4. 『言語学を学ぶ人のために』西田龍雄(編)、346 pages

Nishida Tatsuo, the editor, is a professor emeritus at Kyoto University. His research focused on the Tibeto-Burman languages, and he contributed greatly to the deciphering of the Tangut language, the official language of the Xi-xia (西夏) empire. This book was published in 1986, so it is quite dated in many areas, but it has a useful overview of some of the most important works in the history of linguistics.
5. Ohio State University, Language Files, 7th ed., 495 pages

My advisor gave me his copy of this book, and I found it to be quite helpful. This book is up to the 10th edition by now (I'd like to see that too). This book is geared at undergraduates who have no background in linguistics. Each section contains numerous exercises to practice what you've learned. Some of the exercises are quite challenging. I wish they would publish an answer key along with the book.
6. John McWhorter, All About the Beat--Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America, 187 pages

This book was a good read and was a welcome break from more academic works. Although it was well written, I think I enjoy John as a speaker more than as a writer. I have another book of his, The Power of Babel, on my reading list so I will have to see. I agree with John's take on hip-hop: although there is a lot of hype about it and it is seen as hip by many intellectuals, there is a problem with turning that "hipness" into action because when you get down to it, the music sounds good but really isn't saying much of anything enlightening.
7. John McWhorter, The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language, 336 pages

An excellently written book! It includes an informative discussion of pidgins and creoles and a description of what happens when languages are built from the ground up. I enjoyed his critique of Proto-World at the end of the book. His advice that we should look to pidgins and creoles when imagining what the first language may have been like is good fuel for thought. I like his stories about his cat in his books.
8. George Yule, Pragmatics, 135 pages
An easy-to-read introduction to the concepts used in pragmatics. The section on deixis was particularly interesting.
9. 『言葉を復元する』吉田和彦、184 pages
This book provides a good introduction to Indo-European linguistics. It is written in clear language and although detailed at points, doesn't get overly technical. The examination of Kurylowicz's principles of analogy reminded me of a similar section in Hock's "Principles of Historical Linguistics." The last chapter, which looks at phonological change from the standpoint of generative grammar, was quite helpful. Memorable are Kurylowicz's following statement (p. 132): 「雨がいつ降るかは予測することはできない、しかし、いったん雨が降れば、水が排水路を流れていく方向はわかる。(雨=類推、排水路=類推がはたらく方向)」. Bloomfield's statement that the causes of phonological change are unknown is also interesting to consider, particularly in light of evolutionary theory--a la the blind watchmaker.

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