This book provides a critical and historiographical overview of non-mainstream (‘fringe’) claims and theories about language and languages presented by non-linguists, with an especial focus on work produced in the last fifty years. Topic areas include the origins and relationships of languages, historical and non-historical aspects of writing systems, linguistic material emanating from mysterious sources, supposed non-human languages, language and the mind, etc. The ideas discussed range from the truly bizarre to the merely dubious. The last chapter deals with some aspects of mainstream linguistics which appear to invite skeptical attention. Although there is a substantial critical literature on some specific topics of this kind, there has never before been a linguistically-informed general work on this entire topic area; this work remedies this situation. Newbrook outlines, explains and critiques a wide range of such ideas, in his capacity as a professional linguist associated with the world-wide skeptical movement. The intention is to be fair and free of dogmatism in making critiques, and not to ‘debunk’ without due consideration. Newbrook also addresses the question of how each set of non-mainstream ideas developed out of earlier (often largely non-linguistic) intellectual or quasi-intellectual background thinking. Unnecessary technicalities are avoided and key concepts are explained in a glossary or as they arise.
Mark Newbrook was born and brought up in Wirral near Liverpool in North-West England. He completed a BA (Honours) in Classics (including Indo-European philology) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and went on to take an MA and a PhD in linguistics at the University of Reading, specialising in variationist historical dialectology and associated attitudinal matters. Subsequently he spent many years as a lecturer and researcher in linguistics in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. While in Australia, Mark combined his professional activities with his broad-based interest in skepticism to become one of the few identifying 'skeptical linguists'; he was linguistics consultant to Australian Skeptics and now occupies similar roles in the equivalent British organisations. He has authored several books and many articles and reviews on various aspects of linguistics, notably sociolinguistics, dialectology and skeptical linguistics.