So you want to dip your toe into the waters of linguistics, but you don’t want to take a linguistics course? A course would be full-body immersion, after all, not just dipping a toe.
So what do you do?
There are a lot of options, especially podcasts and YouTube videos, many of which I’ve written about over the years: just click on the Linguistics category in the sidebar of the home page of this blog. You can also read a pop linguistics book, which was the entry point for 92% of adult linguists, back when we were teens or tweens. I was one of those 92%.
OK, OK, I just made up that statistic, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s in the right ballpark.
Another path is to use a curated list, such as one of the guides from Mutual Intelligibility. There are two big differences between pop linguistics books and these guides:
- You can always rely on the accuracy of the material in the curated lists, as those have impeccable credentials (vetted by Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch in this case) — not so much with the pop books.
- Sometimes pop linguistics books are much easier to read and much less technical, even if they’re not 100% accurate.
So you pays your money and you takes your chance, as they say.
Let’s look at some of the topics in just one of the Mutual Intelligibility guides, as a concrete example. This is from the guide to World Englishes:
- Sounds of New Zealand English
- UK / US / South African English Vocabulary Differences
- Talking Canadian
- How Are British English and American English Different?
- Ten Foods Brits and Indians Pronounce Differently
- American and British Politeness
- Why the Aussie accent is so hard
- Movie Accent Expert Breaks Down 32 Actors’ Accents
- New York Times Dialect Quiz
- What English Sounds Like to Non-English Speakers
But wait! There’s more! Surely something in that list will whet your appetite. And that’s just the World Englishes guide. The others cover an enormous range of linguistic topics, some of which can get as technical as learning about the International Phonetic Alphabet, which everyone should learn!