section banner
About...
The book

The book

I started writing this book because I was teaching an introductory linguistics course, and I was dissatisfied with the available textbooks. In particular, I felt that they did not do a good job of showing how the study of language fits into the larger field of cognitive science. Once I got into it, the book turned into more than a textbook on linguistics because it began to veer off into areas of study that usually don't count as linguistics. One way to define linguistics is as the study of language itself, which can be contrasted with language behavior. Language behavior is studied by people in the fields of psycholinguistics, language development, natural language processing, and computational linguistics, and there is often an attempt to keep these fields distinct from linguistics "proper". I believe that it is more productive to see all of these fields as making up "the language sciences" or "language science", and it is really this meta-field that is the topic of this book.

I also think that most introductory textbooks (on all topics, not just linguistics) try to introduce too many concepts and fail to tie them together in terms of a small number of themes. I believe that the way language works makes sense (not all linguists agree), and I've tried to organize the book around this idea. I also believe that a basic understanding of how language works is just as important to a basic education as an understanding of algebra or geography, and I hope that I've made it clear in the book why I believe this.

Finally, I've tried to incorporate several other novel ideas of mine about how best to teach about language: start with simplified, artificial examples; select real examples from a relatively small number of languages (especially those that are somewhat familiar to the author); and be open about the large gaps in our knowledge about language, as well as the excitement that comes with a young field.

This is edition 3.0 of How Language Works. It is quite different from the last edition (2.0). In particular, it includes material on computational approaches to language. Long after coming up with the title, I realized that there were several published books with the same title (and at least one more has appeared since I released this book). So if you refer to this book elsewhere, be sure to make it clear that you are referring to "How Language Works (edition 3.0) by Michael Gasser". The book is freely available to anyone, under the terms of GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2. If you have any comments, suggestions, or questions about the material, please contact me.


TOC Email author Printer Friendly Next