Don't Believe a Word: The Surprising Truth About Language (Hardcover)

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A linguist’s entertaining and highly informed guide to what languages are and how they function.

Think you know language? Think again.

  • There are languages that change when your mother-in-law is present.

  • The language you speak could make you more prone to accidents.

  • Swear words are produced in a special part of your brain.

Over the past few decades, we have reached new frontiers of linguistic knowledge. Linguists can now explain how and why language changes, describe its structures, and map its activity in the brain. But despite these advances, much of what people believe about language is based on folklore, instinct, or hearsay. We imagine a word’s origin is it’s “true” meaning, that foreign languages are full of “untranslatable” words, or that grammatical mistakes undermine English.

In Don’t Believe A Word, linguist David Shariatmadari takes us on a mind-boggling journey through the science of language, urging us to abandon our prejudices in a bid to uncover the (far more interesting) truth about what we do with words.

Exploding nine widely held myths about language while introducing us to some of the fundamental insights of modern linguistics, Shariatmadari is an energetic guide to the beauty and quirkiness of humanity’s greatest achievement.

About the Author

David Shariatmadari is a writer and editor at the Guardian. He studied linguistics at Cambridge University and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where he now lives.

Praise For…

David Shariatmadari…makes us look afresh at the language we speak and how it structures our intimacies, our thoughts, and our identities. Wry and immensely intelligent, Don’t Believe a Word awakens us to complexities of communication that we too readily ignore, and it does so with both deep scholarship and a light touch.

— Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree

Come for the myth-busting, stay for the lighthearted introduction to linguistics. David Shariatmadari ably demonstrates that there are plenty of fascinating things to learn about language without indulging in sensationalist headlines.
— Gretchen McCulloch, author of Because Internet

Wonderful. David Shariatmadari wears his deep learning with such an admirable and alluring lightness of touch. You finish Don’t Believe a Word more alive than ever to the enduring mystery and miracle of that thing that makes us most human, the gift of language.

— Stephen Fry

Delves into the riddles of language [for] a brisk and friendly introduction to linguistics, and a synthesis of the field's recent discovers. ...[I]mpressive.
— Parul Sehgal - New York Times

Don’t Believe A Word is too wise, and too personal, to be regarded as just another book on language: it entertains just as much as it informs.

— Alexander Larman - Observer

[A] meaty, rewarding and even necessary read.
— Joe Moran - Guardian

[A] challenging…agile and lively introduction to language.
— Kirkus Reviews

Don't Believe a Word is a serious piece of research, cogently and carefully presented…[A] richly rewarding read.

— The Mail on Sunday

An illuminating and thought-provoking journey through language.
— Dean Burnett, best-selling author of The Idiot Brain and The Happy Brain

Product Details
ISBN: 9781324004257
ISBN-10: 1324004258
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Pages: 336
Language: English