Brian's Bookshelf


Authors in alphabetical order:
Betty Binns "Better type" - Norman Moss: "British/American Language Dictionary" - Steven Pinker: "The Language Instinct" - William Safire: "Coming to Terms" - Geoffrey Sampson: "Writing Systems" - Geoffrey Sampson: "Educating Eve"


USA Binns, Betty: "Better Type", pub. 1989, Watson-Guptill, 190pp, (landscape A4 format) ISBN 0-8230-0484-8

The cover shows a very long subtitle - "Learning to see subtle distinctions in the faces and the spaces of text type. Achieve legible, beautiful, and expressive type every time." - and this says it all.

See No descenders, thanks - we're Japanese!

Out of print. Originally $30, you should be able to find a used copy for much less than that through ABE

Moss, Norman: "The British/American Language Dictionary", pub. Passport Books, 1984 (many reprintings), 175pp, $10ish ISBN 0-8442-9104-8 (my copy: Amazon lists a different number)

Useful, and often entertaining bilingual dictionary. It's not exhaustive, but then, there seems no end to the subtleties that can be found in the American-British language barrier.
Case in point: muffins and crumpets (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Popup help)

CanadaSteven Pinker: "The Language Instinct" pub. William Morrow, 1994 (also in Penguin paperback)

Excellent: won the somethingorother science prize, I forget exactly when. Pinker is a linguist in the Chomskyan tradition, and this is his exposition of Chomsky's linguistics for the general reader. But it is also much more - a broad introduction to the whole sweep of modern ideas about language. Pinker is a skilled writer, and the book is full of witty examples.

Some more comments in my 1997 holiday reading. This is also in my "Top Ten" list of books everyone should read to understand the world we live in. (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Popup help)


William Safire: "Coming to Terms", pub. "An Owl book"(?) Henry Holt, 1991, 400 pp. p/back. $15

Bits are OK, but don't expect it to last a long or even medium journey. See here

Out of print. Find everything else by Safire at (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Popup help)

England Geoffrey Sampson: "Writing Systems" pub. Hutchinson, 1985, ISBN 0 09 173051 1

Very highly recommended: In all the flurry of modern writing on language, writing has been grossly neglected. Meanwhile books left over from an age when writing was seen as important tend to a rather narrow and self-congratulatory view of "how we got to the final answer, the alphabet." This book restores some balance, in particular including thorough treatments of Chinese (a logographic system), Japanese ("mixed" - aaah!), and perhaps the most interesting writing system of all, Korean hangul. This is an academic book, but Sampson's style is very readable, and it is well worth the effort required. (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Popup help)
Geoffrey Sampson's home page

Book coverEnglandGeoffrey Sampson: "Educating Eve - the 'Language Instinct' debate" pub. Cassell, UK, 1997

This is the antidote to Steven Pinker's book. Much of what Sampson says is, I think, convincing - there really are gaping holes in the Chomskyan edifice when you look at the evidence. But it's interesting that Sampson himself more or less recommends Pinker's "Language Instinct" as an all-round introduction to the theoretical study of language.

The "Eve" of the title is the archetypal tabula rasa human, capable of learning absolutely anything, as opposed to the nativists' version, equipped with "ready-to-go" instincts. Of course, you don't have to swallow Sampson's conclusions 100% either.

A recommended book, though it has its idiosyncrasies. In the last chapter he appears to leave the rails entirely with a defence of dualism that implies that creativity cannot be transmitted through the Internet.

Curiosity: Geoffery Sampson's name is thus misspellt in the copyright statement! (USA) - Amazon UK - Amazon Japan (Popup help)
Geoffrey Sampson's home page



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