Conlangery 116 medallion

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Today we take some time to suggest a few books that conlangers should check out.

Linguistics Books
  • Heine, B., & Kuteva, T. (2002). World lexicon of grammaticalization. Cambridge University Press.
  • Bybee, J., Perkins, R., & Pagliuca, W. (1994). The evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world. University of Chicago Press.
  • Dixon, R. M. (2012). Basic Linguistic Theory (Volumes 2 and 3). Oxford University Press.
  • The Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics (“Red Books”) and the Oxford Linguistics collection. (Somehow we mixed these two together)

Not Quite Linguistics
  • Watkins, C. (1995). How to kill a dragon: aspects of Indo-European poetics (Vol. 11). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Florian, C. (1996). The Blackwell encyclopedia of writing systems. Oxford: Blackwell, 174.
Grammars of Inspiration and Magnificence
  • Any Germanic grammar by Henry Sweet and Joseph Wright
  • Aikhenvald, A. Y. (2008). The Manambu Language of East Sepik, Papua New Guinea. OUP Oxford.
  • Young, R. W., & Morgan, W. (1980). The Navajo language: A grammar and colloquial dictionary (Vol. 3). University of New Mexico Press.
Suggestions from Tumblr
  • narnuinotes: The Art of Grammar (Aikhenvald), Dialectology (Chambers and Trudgill), Languages of Native North America (Mithun).
  • vaxjedi answered: In terms of conscripts, I found Writing Systems by Geoffrey Sampson to be useful.
  • official-data: The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher.
  • neschria answered: In addition to the things mentioned, I have found _The Conlanger’s Lexipedia_ by Mark Rosenfelder gives me things to think about as I am generating vocabulary. (G note: I took a look at the Lexipedia, but I’m not super into it — I feel it’s better to get that information from other sources)
  • vilikemorgenthal answered: “An Introduction to Linguistic Typology”, from Viveka Velupillai. The amount and variety of examples from natlangs is breathtaking. Oh, and it delves into sign languages on an equal footing! A personal favorite
  • 1nsomnizac answered: What Language Is by John McWhorter is a good reference for the sorts of features that develop in natural languages, and it explains things well for laymen.

10 Responses to “Conlangery #116: The Conlanger’s Bookshelf”

  1. Shemtov

    The comment about books for learning languages for conlanging ideas is quite a good one; I’ve used it before- in fact I’m using a book my library system has about reading Classical Tibetan as a guide to a conlang I’m making whose grammar is based on Tibetan with some Bantu influence.

  2. Tor Heyerdal

    Y’all forgot to list what language that was at the beginning of the episode. I really wanna’ know what language that was; it sounded fracking amazing. @.@

    • Ezekiel Fordsmender

      It’s my project Karyoł – The interlinear for the material presented in the recording looks a little bit like this:

      lō-am boñyo re-konaleñkere, boño toagwa=k kekelem-ał=wa boñyo ñeb=toagwa-nta t=ulwu-ał=wa iltak-ał=atbe re-mēłem, ri-bic-i t=acyahmara-m=ał

      2sg=AUX DEF DAT-‘Conlangery’, DEF ‘build’=LINK ‘language’-OBLQ=CONJ 3pl=‘build’-ANTIPASSIVE LINK=‘women’-OBLQ=CONJ ‘men’-OBLQ=‘concerning’ DAT-‘presentation’, DAT-‘listen’-NMLZ LINK=‘appreciate’-NMLZ-OBLQ

      Thanks for the compliment! This was the first time I’ve recorded myself speaking Karyoł, and after the fact I felt it was perhaps a bit too over the top.

  3. Jyri

    William, your copy of The Languages of Native North America is probably a bad individual, since all the books I have from the Cambridge Language Surveys series are bound perfectly fine. It’s either that or I just haven’t loved my copies enough.

    Incidentally, if you love that book, you are also going to like Foley’s The Papuan languages of New Guinea from the same series. It’s quite a bit older and shorter than Mithun’s book, but it gives a similar sort of typological survey of the Papuan languages known to the author and is thus excellent reading for conlangers fishing for ideas. Subjects visited in the book range from the ways to organise pronoun system to verbal semantics and the syntax of complex sentences.

    Another nice book from the series is Dixon and Aikhenvald’s The Amazonian Languages. It’s also full of nice ideas for conlang grammars, but since it’s primarily organised by language families, it may be harder to form a full picture from the grammatical topics than when reading the first two books.

    On the subject of Elsevier and the state of academic publishing, I suggest everyone interested in reading academic papers to look for them from It looks like it’s quickly becoming a similarly valuable free offprint asset for linguistics as is for the natural and mathematical sciences.

    • /sɑɪ̯f ɑsɑd ɑˈsːətjə/̟

      Hear hear. I have a copy of The Languages of Native North America and it is blameless. I cannot countenance any advice that involves not buying Mithun’s book! Also, is indispensible: just the sort of thing that, after I found it, I couldn’t remember how I put up with not having it before.

      • wm.annis

        I cannot countenance any advice that involves not buying Mithun’s book!

        Well, I understand that impulse very well.

  4. /sɑɪ̯f ɑsɑd ɑˈsːətjə/̟

    Will the bookshelf become too unwieldy if I start recommending papers/book chapters? Two that I think are particularly good for conlangers, especially historically-oriented ones, are

    “Old and Middle Welsh” by David Willis ( I am not by any means a Welsh specialist, but I found this to be an especially lucid and readable precis of a language’s history. I figuratively turned the pages thinking, “Gosh, I wonder what will happen next!”

    Guillaume Jacque’s recent paper “Grammaticalization in Japhug and Gyalrongic languages” ( is a brisk jaunt through a wide variety of pieces of morphology found in this small language family with the author’s comments on their etymological origins, including notes on which grammaticalisations are typologically common or rare.

  5. Chet Archbold

    Even for the Indo-European averse, The American Heritage Dictionary Indo-Europeam Roots is worth a read. It’s particularly helpful for historical conlanging and lexical considerations. It’s a slim volume and not terribly expensive.


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