3 Thrilling Reads for Oxbridge Applicants – Linguistics

3 Thrilling Reads for Oxbridge Applicants – Linguistics

Good Daytime,

What is language? How does it evolve? Is communication possible without language? Well this book recommendation would be RUBBISH without language, that’s for sure.

This is the 4th instalment in our book recommendation series. If you haven’t guessed already, it concerns Linguistics.



  1. The Story of Human Language by John McWhorter (audiobook, The Great Courses) 

Applying for Linguistics, a subject not taught in schools, is about aptitude and interest rather than previous experience.  This is why I’ve chosen to put an audiobook at the top of this list – a low-impact and portable way of getting a great overview of the subject.  The style can be a bit twee at times, but the content is fantastic; it touches on most aspects of linguistics as well as giving an idea of what language is in general.  The chapters each deal with different areas of the subject, and flow in a logical order with an entertaining host.  There is also an accompanying PDF, which I think is extremely helpful. 

(Recommended by Rhys, who studied Linguistics and Spanish at Oxford)


  1. How Language Works by David Crystal 

Crystal gives a polished and transparent (see what I did there?) look at much of the mechanisms through which language is generated, perceived, and acquired by young children.  There are other good books on the subject with a more psychological bent (look at The Stuff of Thought or The Language Instinct, both by Steven Pinker, if that’s more your thing), but this one was my pick for its structure and readability.  It also touches on a few other topics, such as parts of communication that accompany language (e.g. facial expressions, or hand gestures) to give a solid overview of the disciplines that you may be studying. 

(Recommended by Rhys, who studied Linguistics and Spanish at Oxford)


  1. Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch (book or audiobook) 

A very recent book which might seem like an odd choice, but I think this is an excellent introduction to how Linguistics can be applied in the real (or virtual) world.  The internet has altered how we speak – or, as the book shows, our speech has altered how we internet (yes, including using “internet” as a verb).  Through the prism of grammatical analysis, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics, the book explores several online language phenomena, and explains them with standard linguistic theory.   A light-hearted sideways approach towards the subject.  McCulloch also hosts a podcast called Lingthusiasm, which is another easy source of good ideas and information on Linguistics. 

(Recommended by Rhys, who studied Linguistics and Spanish at Oxford)

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